for Dorothea Tanning

Winterlong, off La Manche, wind leaning. Gray stones of the gray
   city sluiced by gray rain. And he dreamed

Of desert and distance, sunlight like murder, lust and new colors whose
   Names exploded the spectrum like dynamite,
   of cancer. So went there,

Who did not know what he was, or could be, though hoping he might
   find there his fate. Found
   what he found: with head shaven,

One lock at the occiput left, red tarboosh wind-flaunted, rode hard at
   the Sphinx, at the “Father of Terrors,” which,
   in that perspective and distance, lifted slow from
   the desert, like a great ship from hull-down.
   At its height,
   it swung. His cry burst forth.

In the white-washed room, by the light of wicks in three oil-glasses
and to   the merciless screak of the rebec, with musicians
   blind-folded, the dancer, her breasts
   cruelly bound to bulge upward and bare, above
   pink trousers flesh rippling in bronze, danced
   the dance which

He recalls from the oldest Greek vases—the leap on one foot with
   the free foot crossed over, the fingers
   aquiver, face calm, and
   slow centuries sifting like shadow. Light
   flickers on whitewash. He finds
   The mons veneris shaven, arse noble.
   That night three coups, and once
   performs cunnilingus. Fingers clutching her necklace,
   he lies. He remembers his boyhood. Her fingers
   and naked thighs twitch in sleep.

By day, on the minaret-top, the stork clacked its beak. At the edge of
   the carrion-field, the wild dog, snout blue from old blood,
   skulked, and camel bells in the distance.
   On the voyage down-Nile, on the slave-boat, old-women,
   black and slaves too, who had seen all of life, tried
   to persuade the young girls, market-bound,
   to smile. But once,

On the height of Gebel Abusir, looking down on the Cataract, where
   the Nile flung itself to white froth on black granite, he
   cried out: “Eureka—the name, it is Emma!”
   And added: “Bovary.” Pronouncing the o,
   as recorded by his companion, quite short.

So home, and left Egypt, which was: palms black, sky red, and the river
   like molten steel, and the child’s hand
   plucking his sleeve—“Bacsheesh,
   and I’ll get you my mother to fuck”—and the bath-boy
   he buggered, this in a clinical spirit and as
   a tribute to the host-country. And the chancre, of course,
   bright as a jewel on his member, and borne
   home like a trophy.

But not to be omitted: on the river at Thebes, having long stared
   at the indigo mountains of sunset, he let
   eyes fix on the motion of three wave-crests that,
   in unison, bowed beneath the wind, and his heart
   burst with a solemn thanksgiving to God for
   the fact he could perceive the worth of the
   world with such joy.


Years later, death near, he remembered the palm fronds—
   how black against a bright sky!

This Issue

August 8, 1974