||A Mirror, Helsinki, Jan 1990
You could pay
a quartermaybe as little as a dimeand pull on
trunks and later shower off the salt
and your clothes would still
be there for going home. You changed
and ran out, striped
by light that slipped between slats,
onto sand you had to hot-foot across
between the bathers down
to the wet slope water had hardened.
When I try to see those old Jewish men
on either side of me again, knowing
they may not have been
so old, that shade of paper white
and the knotted ropes of veins that wrapped
their knees, the glowing skeins
of blue as they peeled down to shorts,
abrupt angles their penises
bent at, the droop
of their stretched testicles, the sway
I can't hold out against the sag, like dough,
of gobs billowing from the tuck a knife
left, bulbs, hairy twistings-back on themselves of pillows of flesh.
I'm cringing again as someone beside me
opens a shirt, pulling my clothes on
faster, shooting for the door:
And still their flesh leaps out at me
as far as here, Helsinki, my internal clock so far
out of kilter I can't sleep
or stay awake. I step from the shower
and see reflected in the mirror
my own sad ass, its double
curve and muscle around which fat slips and dips.
Stranded nowhere I have ever been,
I've become one of the old men
and had to come to Nordic Helsinki to honor
that pledge of solidarity
my turn-coat body made in those days:
because we are transformed by what we flee
and have no say, who are in flight.
There's a sprinkling of stars, a wedge of moon
above the walk to the cabin, and cold
every member of the household
asleep inside. The sky assumes
its central place: the world's a shimmer,
a reflection on waters the winds stir.
A boy chooses trucks, sure
his talent for music is something alien,
a woman wakes up bleeding.
I'd scream if that helped. What helps
is a thin faith in reason, the cold air,
here to there, and like an ember's,
the faint pulsings of a star
in a puddle of black so remote
it's past conceiving. Or nothing
helps, but I let myself imagine
my mother well again, a warmth
in which ice melts and through
dream-bars a dream-worn
father drawing his son.
The Muse as Lilith
Though they are cleaner than we are, more
delicate even in the articulation of their joints,
our loves resemble us. If what they ask for
and what they need aren't always the same,
it is our job to sense the latter and provide it.
So only someone come to tempt us would show,
as in the mirror of a lover's face, where we are most
deeply reflected, that no matter what we tell
others, we cannot have love as we want it,
unencumbered by agreements reached silently over the years.
Only someone with no intention of returning
our love would insist that love can be neither gift
nor possession. Like Lilith, that one would
hiss honesty is only the ruse you use to find or
tolerate yourself. That one, independent, cold, would show
love in all its swollen, throbbing childishness.
Turn off the lights, the mundane lover says, but the Muse
moves under the lamp, inviting us to inspect more
closely, forcing us nearer, even with passion.
If we court her, crave her visits, call her our ideal,
how could it be with any thought of measuring
others, with any question of body or beauty or comfort?
With the Muse, there is only sorrow, manna
in the desserta sign that God provides or
our evidence there is no God, though we are provided for.
Young Ballerina on TV
The interviewer asks and she smiles back;
it's work but of a different sort.
Though dancing is not thought,
being a dancer demands talk and tact
with those who'll never know what dancing is,
how the body learns a line,
the continuity and grace
that sweep like rain, how one can shape, refine
each gesture until move and body fuse
within a motion. She's begun
to guess that only some
are sure of what they wantand of those who chose,
still fewer can perform. Confused, she stalls
then smiles, trusting the way she trusts
her body or youthlike dust
that goes on dancing when the curtain falls.