Fur is Murder
Three basement floors of used clothing.
After browsing for hours you loom
before me in fur-trimmed white,
hardly your style. Tight pink slacks,
a sequined blouse. Stilted shoes.
Refurbished, you vanish from my life,
leaving the faintest blonde residue.
After searching all three floors
and finding a svelte leather jacket
unsuited to my sorry carcass
I emerge into an open square
overhung by skyscrapers trimmed
with residential balconies. One
grinning storefront draws me, a bar
crammed with eager young faces.
Hard music hammers from speakers
set in the ceiling. I glimpse
your fur-trimmed jacket encircled
by tall desperate men. Ducking out
the door, I cross the square and return
to the used clothing world and don
a plain cotton raincoat, cheaper
and less aggressive than the leather
I thought would render us equal.
Back in the bar I shove through
the crowd with the mock arrogance
of a plainclothes detective. You curl
a lip, but I rip the jacket
from your narrow shoulders and cry
“Fur is murder!” The crowd gives way,
the desperate men turn their backs,
and a hint of tortured animal
trembles in the cusp of your smile.
Squat before a goat-dung fire
in fifteen degrees of December,
I wonder how the Jesus-myth
plays in Berlin and London
these days. The plaster walls crack
to reveal the ancient adobe,
a mode of construction older
than the account of Yahweh’s beard
secreted deep in Exodus.
That beard warms exactly half
the inhabitants of this city.
The others bask in the hot breeze
drifting from Mecca to Medina.
This leaves me shivering at a fire
that cost more shekels than I earned
in two years reporting the war
from Cairo. No one here believes
in the war, no one accepts
the extinction of Europe’s Jews,
sure that after the Russians pass
over Poland’s gaping carcass
the citizens will rise from the wreck.
Then from Warsaw to Kiev
shy villages will resume
their kosher and cabbage stance,
bickering in the market-place.
I believe the rumors. The beard
of Yahweh wasn’t warm enough
to protect against the winters
of ‘forty to ‘forty-three. This year,
the one about to embrace us,
will end it, snuffing my dung fire
and cracking half the adobe
in Palestine, erasing the last
of His carefully misleading clues.
Your Portrait in Primal Tones
A camera crude as a nail gun
snaps your portrait in primal tones.
I intend to hang this photo
in the hayloft of the haunted barn.
You’ve never climbed the ladder
into that sleazy space where spiders
pink as scabs build webs as big
as trampolines. Moldy old harness,
busted wagon springs, surly trunks
stuffed with disease-laden blankets
reminisce like items depicted
in seventeenth-century paintings
by Dutch masters we both admire.
You want to linger on the night
your sister married and you and I
collapsed over wine in the kitchen
while in the parlor our friends laughed
midnight past, the season changing
in windy streets. A famous time
for exchanging vows: a war ended
in the Far East, another plotting
in the desert where the throb of oil
suggested a rough beast’s heartbeat.
When after hours of play
we returned to the parlor
with out expressions thus unbuttoned
our friends laughed that candid laugh
that sounds like water down a drain.
Now you’ve become your mother
and I’ve become my father
because the trees in the Blue Hills
lose track of their leaves and we
lose track of ourselves and others.
Your portrait will hang high in the barn.
Don’t worry if I caught your smile.
Such a crude amateur portrait
withholds itself so thoroughly
not even the creepy pink spiders
dare to desecrate its gaze.
Jailed in Portugal
Jailed in Portugal, we’re free
to interact all day and night,
men and women alike. Charged
with tourism, nudism, disdain
for priests, we’d plead guilty and pay
a modest fine except that
we’re thriving in confinement.
Gail reads all day and limbers up
at night. Zach sleeps so soundly
his snoring has cracked the adobe.
Lilly rises light as cirrus
and drifts singing through the jailhouse.
Scott has solved every crossword
in six languages and devises
new ones on his own. Jess and I
confab in a corner and plot
new-fangled honeymoons to peddle
to couples too postmodern for sex.
The jailor regards us with smiles.
The best local restaurants deliver
meals and wine, and he pockets
generous tips. All night we swap
partners until no one’s sure
of his or her identity.
The hotel on the beach didn’t feel
this free: the view from the rooms
too sun-spangled, and the nights
adrift with orchestral standards.
Here the same dim light bulbs gloom
day and night, and the creaking
of our bunks sounds desperately noir.
Late after the slum traffic fades
we catch the amateur stroking
of guitars and apply the music
to each other, exposing nerves
we’d otherwise never touch,
trilling like the small green birds
that perch at our windows for crumbs.
Bottomless Pit, Roman Bath
A bottomless pit has opened.
Beside it, a shallow depression
lined with tile. A swimming pool?
Roman bath, you insist, although
the Romans didn’t do New Hampshire,
did they? Archaeologists kneel
in the aqua-blue construction.
You warn them that a growling
emanates from the chasm but
they claim it’s only an earthquake,
not Cerberus lapping the bleak
current of the Styx. I lower
a flashlight on a rope and find,
only a hundred feet down, a floor
of ordinary mica schist.
The archaeologists examine
the Roman bath and claim Nero
designed it to commemorate
his victory over the Mohawks.
But only a year later they chased
his legions north to Nova Scotia,
from which they rowed back to Gaul.
The no-longer bottomless pit,
they insist, formed because the bath,
spring-fed, leaked and eroded
a socket-hole in the world.
You’re so excited you dance
at the edge of the pit, and before
I can snag you, tumble in.
You slide thirty feet down the slope,
but when I catch up you’re laughing,
so we shuffle to the bottom
to savor the earthen dark.
We roll around on the mica floor,
enjoying a private moment,
and when we look up we note
the famous noon stars winking
like motes in a Cyclops’ eye.