No one writes out of desperation. It’s too difficult. Writing is always an act of hope.
Every body has a language all its own but
we held each other like tangled trees,
folded each other’s clothes, wept
in the garden under a daylight moon.
No one learns anything without help.
The dog stumbles fording a salty creek.
The crow in the walnut tree isn’t quite right.
The palm trees are twisting like angry women.
Still, on Friday, there was a big swell,
and you with your Warhol hoodie, looked
at the great abundance of lemons
and quoted Baudelaire.
D’un ait vague et rêveur elle essayait des poses,
Et la candeur unie à la lubricité.
That third shimmering day
we laughed each other silly,
then dined on veal cheek and
lemon sorbetto. At the river
the spillway above ponte alle grazie
burned like a ribbon of phosphorus.
One goes up il duomo
between its two stone skins.
From the cupola you can see
to Fiesole. Now you are washing
dishes while I try to write poetry.
No, I tell you. I want, you say.
In one of the old churches
we went down to the crypt.
Your sister stopped me on
the impossible stairway there
to say to me softly,
This is where I fell in love.
Here is what I remember:
Standing you up to kiss you.
I am cold, you said.
Be cold, I told you. Outside
there was a long Roman wall
crumbling to pieces.
When you lay your hands above your head
and I have all of you like the king’s peaches
or the limbs of something very lithe,
the thin tendril of espalier in winter,
the pert bud of a fig like a button,
the furtive primrose at the dark foot
of the old wall where the late light
of this last January day shines as if for angels.
In Trieste and our difficult bed you sat
back on your heels and instructed me
in French about délicatesse
in an altogether different sort of light,
like the silk of your blue camisole
or the half moon through a grey scrim.
Tu es la femme assise ici. Toujours.
These old walls are still alive with us.
When I arrived your terrace glass
was open a hand’s width.
There was an almost breeze, a quite breeze
that stirred the air like a ghost.
I lay there on the sofa where you
kissed me. My skin remembered
how it once was. We made an apple tart,
you folded my clothes.
I can hear you laughing in French
in the bedroom, where at night
I hold you like the sun
of these first warm days.
At the park the fuschia sky
went all the way to the tour Eiffel.
Yes, my face fills with the same light
when you appear.
You see, you have a passenger.
At the market
the fruit vendor says, Let your husband
take the cart,
and when your sister calls
to ask the difference in English
between from and by,
I am too dizzy to know what to tell her.
The day before I leave, thinking
you are just sad I say,
I know you don’t hate me.
Yes, I do, you tell me.
Let us never speak
of the fractured china,
nor of the swans
or the lamb
and the rosemary.
Let us never speak
of Beckett’s grave
or the ruined bicyclist
and the dog in the air,
of the mercury light
and the mosque,
of the skin of your thigh,
of my white shirt.
Everywhere the air
seemed lighter, and you,
I watched you, dancing
in the terrace window
like a girl
in any spring.
Imagine a shape eased from perfect marble
in the white light of a November noon,
or drifting through mist on a thatch
of sycamore leaves. Both of you, from
hips to plinth, at the sauntering center
of something we all wonder at. Not everything
needs right angles. So let us rethink this:
the feel of the sheets that first night,
the whitefish, courgette and viognier,
your arm holding on, our hands,
that kiss on your cheek as the Arabs watched.
Yes, I must touch you to see you.
During this humid month
the hummingbirds hover
like small angels,
and Agnes goes to Rome
in a long, light dress.
What should one think?
It is only now we see
the goldenrod is also blooming.
It will be hot like this
until October when
everything softens to
In the hard hills
of this our lost place
we gather lavender and sage,
then evening opens,
there is that closing
of the fragile sky.
We sit together in
a kind of garden, there
is musical water,
there are shapes
of things without shadow.
It seems impossible.
In my very small
dream, I lift her dress off,
she is like a slight bough,
like a limb that bends
We pull each other
close. Outside the street
makes its noisy song.
Then we dance,
if one can call it dancing,
our slow gathering
in another deep sweetness.
She had become more conscious of her cycle during her time with Paolo; his powers of observation were rigorous. After only a few months together, they had it all plotted out: there was the quiet time from day one to ten, then the days of the egg, and finally, as the estrogen ebbed and her progesterone surged, what Paolo called the danger, a designation Whitney didn’t much like, for it was associated with many bruising collisions, and there was no way she was owning all of it.
It’s our dynamic, she always countered.
Yes, day twelve, the time of the egg, and on her bothersome way to work—across the piazza, south to the lungarno, then a couple of blocks downstream, where on Tuesday and Thursday at the museo she assisted Signorina di Nero, assistant directoress of public information, as unwelcome a mission as she could conceive for day twelve, when she was not just irritated and distractible, but also beginning to vibrate with acute sexual arousal. What she needed today was a man on top of her, a good thrashing, lunch with vino and a nap.
She once read something about the psychology of beauty. What, if anything, can be said about what we find attractive in others? She couldn’t any longer remember all of what she’d gleaned but a few things still came to mind: There was in the first place rather surprising consistency across cultures regarding good looks. This was so even when it came to groups that were very isolated. Men almost everywhere preferred women with high foreheads, larger eyes, fine noses and cheekbones, full lips, and curvy forms. All such qualities are linked to estrogen levels and greater fertility. No surprise, they are also concentrated among women in their early sexual maturity.
Whitney, for better or worse, possessed most of these characteristics, but one. The principle of the average. It’s also the average that is preferred–average large eyes, for example, average full lips, etc. Women are found less attractive in direct proportion to any augmentation over the average. And Whitney was a little too curvy. She had her father’s shoulders and grandmother’s heavy bottom. To be sure the general impression she projected was still that of a good-looking woman, but she was conscious of being distinctly flawed.