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!
August 8, 1974