1

You are the most extraordinarily beautiful woman
with the elongate lines of an African sculpture,
slats, cylinders, bonded blocks, corners knocked off and rounded.
|Actually, you’re a black woman in a white skin.
Your features cut a design in a pale wooden oval:
geometry in tropical bounty made firm,
tower of your head drenched in amber ringlets.

But, above all, it’s your hands:
competency descended upon us
in this Alhambra of the hands,
moons and half-moons under perfect arches.
Your hands are the words you cannot speak.
They speak iron and grace: the grip of a hawk,
talons’ gunmetal sheen. Close, everything becomes a caged prize;
open, I never knew wisdom had such long fingers.

If I were one of those babes you deliver,
I would fall into those hands as into faith.
I would do it now grown.
We are always in the hands of something.

4

I returned to the bed saturated with you,
the blankets still in an uproar.
In the short history of Israeli furniture
never did a bed know
such suffering and such ecstasy.
An icon, I waited for its wood
to exude your oils.

I asked myself
as I picked up bandanas and shawls
and sank my face into your scent,
how could I ever send them to the laundry?

Your whirlwind has left a wreckage:
ticket stubs, bits of paper with your script,
the last glass you drank your tea in,
my bathrobe forever hugging your form.

George Washington slept here,
Mozart played there;
over there, Dante wrote his love-note to Beatrice.
God, I see why people open up museums.
Let me keep this one for you.

Leda

After he pulled away
and rolled scrambling
off her slippery belly
onto his puffed side,
she noticed black spaces
between the mussed feathers
that had been once filled
by an enduring radiance
that moulded his scalding
white form marble-smooth;
the upswept yellow down,
a discolored blotch.

Gleaming black-tented feet
he used as ailerons
swiveling to steer and restrain
his approach as he skidded,
balanced on the crumpling air,
now seemed only
clawed flippers he slapped
over the insulted ground.

His beak, the polished black
staff signifying power
became to her a bitter hook
all day beckoning harshness.

In time, her imperishable
new flesh collapsed
in piles of concentric lard,
and he just waddled around
the dirt-encrusted kitchen
honking for his meals,
raucous chorus to her question:
How do you cook for a swan?

Baal to Ashtoreth

Come, let me worship you.
One idol to another,
my Baal to your Ashtoreth.

This land has sucked the faith out of both of us.
Too bad it drained all fertility.
We’re clay husks now,
so dense the spirit cannot enter
and shrinks away homeless
as a wild dog that returns to the desert.

We’re both fired closed to any breath from heaven,
but let me bring my one live ember to yours.
Unhinge those cursed arms
stiff with unrythym at your sides;
bend those locked knees to me.
I’ll invent vertebrae and bow
to crack the centuries of your archaic smile.

But my ceramic heart can no more believe in you
than the hill packed in dust
where they dug your clump.

My god’s the slab they threw you on,
the wheel they broke your back against.
I believe in the incision, the notch at the crotch,
the awl thorough the gut.
Whatever stripes the chest
bakes my feet to the earth.

There, open your drilled eyes
to the hopeless rays from mine.
One fused embrace, a battle of angles,
looks like hate.
They’ll have to shatter us to separate.

25

I’ll admit it —
I want to be like all the nations,
and you’re one of them.
I’ll fight, brawl, drink, make love
all night and day, threaten you with a knife,
have visions of the Virgin
and the delirium tremens.
Your last boyfriend I’ll pulverize.
My jealousy will absolutely corrode me.
I’ll begin to fix your car.
Ask me anything about construction.
I’ll marry you and flee the vows.
I’ll return diseased.
Then maybe you’ll be happy.
You’ll say, “I love my little Jew.”

36

One word and I’ve lost you.
It’s precision going,
micrometer metallurgy,
engineering between souls.
A little counterweight miscalculated
and something goes up
and slaps you in the face.
A turn beyond tolerance
on a curve
and your nose scrapes a wall.
Mismanage a look
and get stared dead
between the eyes.
And the heart —
progeny of bad habits
will simply not
be allowed to befoul the salon.
Not that I blame you.
Since I defaulted
on what was outstanding,
you’re holding all the paper towels
blank as promisory notes
yet to be fulfilled.

60

I saw the mirror . . .
my God, I was surprised.
Why am I so happy?

I’m living opposed to all my ideals;
my faith is a paradox in shambles,
I can’t piece two principles together.

My hair is long and grey;
I dazzle the waitresses at the café.
They can’t figure if I’m young and prematurely aged
or old and marvellously preserved,
with the skin of a baby
wrinkled like a sage.

I’ve used my body disgracefully to excess,
yet it feels pure.
In spasms I dredged all the life from my crater
yet my eyes keep filling with light.
I’m absolutely gurgling with stupidity.
I’ve always known life was outrageous,
but what will I do next?

61

I live like a Chinaman, I eat like a Chinaman,
I accept the Great Tao as a Chinaman.
I started this fatal adventure in my early twenties,
admiring the great hermit poets.

The Chinese admire the liberties of old age,
expect one’s identification with the universe
to go on increasing with the years.

I accept the Great Tao of Jewish History, where I
find myself
with a much younger woman
with friends still younger than herself.

When we’re together, they show me an embarrassed respect;
embarrassed for me that I’ve wandered
into such capricious, unsuitable company
for my apparent wisdom.

How wise can I be to get into such a fix?
They don’t realize it’s not a matter of age;
that I wanted to retire to the pine mountains
to listen to the birds at dawn and evening
and see the clouds blooming up
over the humped green skyline by age twenty-five.

Only, the Chinese poets worked through years of bureaucratic service
to arrive there.
I seem to have got to it by dawdling along
until everything else passed me by.

63

Oh yes, poets and men of faith are lazy,
but I warn you women to differentiate
between the lazy and the persistently lazy.
Good poets and men of faith are persistently lazy.
They sit, half-dozing, waiting for the thoughts and words to bubble up
just like prayers out of the infinite.

Prayers out of the infinite are the only valid prayers.
No one has stained them, no one has dressed them in tights,
given them a job, trained them to a task,
as they know everything already.

They’re really only meant to labor for truly lazy men,
as truly lazy men understand and give them homes
and are too lazy to ask for anything in return:
lazy poets and men of faith.

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