These are my favorite sections. The speaker descends into the underworld and becomes Marcelle's lover. If I were a better poet, vi. might remind one of Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, or the Andiessen opera, Writing to Vermeer, for which he wrote the libretto, and which we had the unsurpassed privilege of seeing in New York in 2000.
v. And Down
Can amaranth and asphodel
Bring merrier laughter to your eyes?
In the rusting kitchens of Dis
the clocks have ankylosed at three,
curtains sag, glass clouds, cookbooks dog-
ear in the dampness
and the only time is borrowed from above,
a trickle-down, a leach,
an equinoctal tick and tock
of birth and death, barely audible,
corrosive as a midnight drip drip drop.
This is a humid hell,
not drily Catholic but wet enough
to nurse chlorotic tracts of asphodel,
the only native crop, perennial,
that, taproots to brimstone, incandesce,
while surplus crates of pomegranate, corn,
rot all winter on the docks at Styx.
I have come to find you, chère Marcelle.
Greensick from the crossing,
Orpheus in Orphan Annie drag,
I’ll search the riverside ladies’ hotel,
our old resort, offseason rates year round.
It’s always winter somewhere, after all,
or about to be, if not for us,
for the antipodal sisters that we pass,
white sandals rising, black oxfords toeing down.
Against house rules, I prowl the corridors
and eavesdrop on the locked-behind-closed-doors
monodies -- the hiss of steam,
the hush of seething, simmering,
the caged bump of boiling,
the votive silence of the chafing dish,
the clandestine shhhhh
of pressure cookers creeping toward the red --
until I hear Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go
a louche arrangement of a standard blues,
Victrola-thin, in smoky 78,
but recognizable, instantly, as yours.
Shy, I knock. Shyer, you let me in.
vi. Love Song
Marcelle, you are word fallen into flesh.
From your mouth, I swallow paper pulp.
from your breasts, a let-down draught of ink,
from between your labia, dark red
oxide rivulets. By now the stove’s
blue haloes have annealed your fingertips
to chalk and charcoal. Love, I offer you
my back’s stretched vellum, the parchment of my breasts.
Our fallen flesh will sublimate to word.