Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jefferson in Paris (from American Poems)


I fell in love with her in France. The old
world I found decadent and yet remote
from our peculiar sins. So I grew bold
and chose to put aside the asymptote

of our conditions for her youth and sex.
She was my girls’ companion. There was call
to clothe her as a French woman would dress.
And when I saw her standing at a ball

wreathed in pale silk, her bosom softly pale
rising and falling with her breath, I burned
to watch her soft-curled hair untwine and fall
luxuriant down her back, to make her turn

in endless circles on the ballroom floor.
in circles dancing: so, her master’s whore.


She was my wife’s half sister, rough begot
by the same father; there the secret text
of my bleak love: that I had near forgot
the smell of my wife, her skin, her breasts

the planetary softness deep within
her where we made our daughters. Now I chart
the map of this child’s bones beneath her skin:
naked, black-thatched, brown-nippled, beating heart

beneath my hand. She reaches down and takes
my sex between her palms and she is warm
down where she guides me in between her legs.
I move inside her, choke and cry, then come.

She breathes beside me, tangled in my sheets.
My wife is dead, my love obscenely sweet.

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