(For E. H. L.)

The house is filled. The last heart-throb
thrills through her flesh. The hero stands,
stunned by the applauding hands,
and lifts her head to please the mob…
No, young and starry-eyed, the brother,
and sister wait before their mother,
old iron-bruises, powder, “Child,
these breasts…” He knows. And if she’s killed

his treadmill heart will never rest—
his wet mouth pressed to some slack breast,
or shifting over on his back…
The severed radiance filters back,
athirst for night-life—gorgon head,
fished up from the Aegean dead,
with all its stranded snakes uncoiled,
here beheaded and despoiled.

We hear the ocean. Older seas
and deserts give asylum, peace
to each abortion and mistake.
Lost in the Near Eastern dreck,
the tyrant and tyrannicide
lie like the bridegroom and the bride;
the battering ram, abandoned, prone,
beside the ape-man’s phallic stone.

Betrayals! Was it the first night?
They stood against a black and white
inland New England backdrop. No dogs
there, horse or hunter, only frogs
chirring from the dark trees and swamps.
Elms watching like extinguished lamps.
Knee-high hedges of black sheep
encircling them at every step.

Some subway-green coldwater flat,
its walls tattooed with neon light,
then high delirious squalor, food
burned down with vodka…menstrual blood
caking the covers, when they woke
to the dry, childless Sunday walk,
saw cars on Brooklyn Bridge descend
through steel and coal dust to land’s end.

Or was it later? Long recovered,
dead sober, cured! As usual smothered
by the closed, diminished scene,
they met once, crossed the gritty green,
then passed elms dried to bark, washed out
in summer’s coarse last quarter drought.
(They’re young still!) She put on a face.
Dehydration browned the grass.

Is it this shore? Their eyes worn white
as moons from hitting bottom? Night,
the sandfleas scissoring their feet,
the sandbed cooling to concrete,
one borrowed blanket, lights of cars
shining down at them like stars?…
Sand built the lost Atlantis…sand,
Atlantic ocean, condoms, sand.

Sleep, sleep. The ocean, grinding stones,
can only speak the present tense;
nothing will age, nothing will last,
or take corruption from the past.
A hand, your hand then! I’m afraid
to touch the crisp hair on your head—
Monster loved for what you are,
till time, that buries us, lay bare.

This Issue

March 31, 1966