A Symposium on Love
“Damn the word,” said Justine once. “I would like to spell it backwards as you say the Elizabethans did God. Call it evol and make it a part of ‘evolution’ or ‘revolt.’” — Justine, Lawrence Durrell
Age is an evolution – or devolution – of lust.
To be lost in revolt, as one must be growing up,
invites erotics into the palace of the family.
Air spiked with ecstasy. xWe all know it.
So voluble in bed might signify lust
or politics, depending on whether
you live in a hovel, where the velocity
of wildlife, certainly a mouse, about its vital business
shadows the movements of governments,
or a hotel, hovering over the chasm
between mountains, where we stopped.
Olives. Lupine. The sound of violins
through the balcony window, resinous,
heard through steam: treatments for the liver.
Into the porches of our ears pours music
reverberating through marble spaces. “That old man
wants to live,” whispers a medic,
mopping up. His vulpine mask is a blur
through silk curtains as he bends over
to lave bodies slippery with oil. He cares for us.
Here, in the mountains, where we feel free,
olives are served in gin straight from the freezer.
The menu reports that olev is an alternative,
a citrus fruit found in the garden below.
A solo viola with piano plays at a wedding on the patio.
Is olev a word in another language,
an oval fruit used in a harvest ritual,
a kind of citron, a renewal, a stand-in for love?
Maybe instead you wrote, “Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear their voices. We’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the ceremony to interpret youth and age. Drink up!”
She whispers, “I’ve loved you for half my life.”
To reprise: voluble in bed can signify
the exhaustion of lust and the birth of politics
depending on where you live, a hovel,
or next summer’s hotel on a coast, where olives are eaten
crushed with oil and tomatoes on pasta. Viols can be heard
from a balcony overlooking the river.
In a hotel notebook become a diary you can signify a place
where you stayed one summer, the air an oven
you entered to make love or sleep.
Your bed linens were streaked with damp.
Remember oval windows above his elbow,
trimmed with red and yellow light? I don’t.
A mirror in the corner showed us at the moment
we became another person, tiny and contorted
for a few beats, who might change into
a dolt with a scar, or a dwarf,
a violinist of genius but peculiar, hard to reach
until the world called out to him and he went.
He appears tonight on the program.
Let us return to the moment, please.
Your new partner is to be found at the next table,
voluble, thank God, after months of silence.
What’s he onto now? Oh, the volume of trade
on the stock exchange. I’m interested. Are you?
Here, in the mountains, after sunburnt children with their dogs
are put to bed, conversation veers toward the intimate.
Of course the subject is money. A plunging market.
What’s to be done? Be patient. The people will speak.
Vox Popular in November. The new black may be white.
Be patient. “I grew up in a Victorian melodrama,” overheard,
might seem to change the stakes. For me, at least.
In a corner of the room, under satin swags
that frame the mountains, three women lean
toward the axis of their table and whisper.
You can barely hear their hisses over the swipe
of VISA through the bar machine.
If you . . . you’ll disappear . . . Escape?
But how? Where do they think they’ll go?
Meanwhile the elderly are falling in love.
You can. Erotic is the reverse of deathly.
Dour Mr. Thanatos rents out accordions
at base camp if you’ve a mind to dance.
And while we’re speculating here,
if you have a comrade with a mind so rigid
you can hear the crack on the page as you read
his work, what can you do at 8,000 feet?
Maybe you can write some evolved and looser squiggles
to depict the guy on the plane en route, in the next seat,
depressed because no one will talk to him
so his head droops onto his chest
seemingly ready to be released into a basket.
Wasn’t that the French Revolution?
That guy only wanted to convert us, not seduce.
Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear over his voice what they’re saying.
Certainly we’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the pool. Drink up!
A bridesmaid hands over a hanky. The best man is a she.
Their fathers link arms. Their mothers smile.
By now we’re sobbing into tissues and taking pictures.
Surely next comes midlife revolt. What do you think?
Oh look. A moose lopes over the top of the mountain.
The bell for dinner sounds. I’ve a mind to bolt
this place. Echoes reverberate on the balconies.
You know, I’ve loved him for half my life.
At the end, it seems the rest of the relatives died.
I’ve stolen a chair for you, sawed off the arms.
For breakfast stirred up plovers’ eggs. xOnce
I flew to the moon in order to press your hands to her face.
I strung a magic key around my neck for my roller skates.
On my feet they clanked, threw sparks on the sidewalk.
My mom wore an apron when she wasn’t wearing gloves.
I wore silk to the dance, midnight blue with a keyhole neckline, a soft bow.
I married for the childbed and didn’t die.
I walked out the door on my own two feet.
Alaska wove color through the sky.
The dog sled team at a full run shat frozen turds that missed me.
Up again at night I learned hot milk beats tea every time.
The walls, all color, wore well and framed up paintings I accumulate.
My house has four bedrooms.
Much of my life is over.
Pleasing others is my greatest sin.
When my ribs knit I swore never again to surrender. I lied.
My knee healed with a scar.
Four husbands vanished on horseback but the crops didn’t fail.
Winter is a season like any other.
Now spring is all. Spring, moving into summer.
Sleep in wind, in voices.
What’s under pressure breaks out in cactus flowers.
Ants abound in the arroyo and coyotes.
Some of what I couldn’t stand to lose I lost.
In every room a pencil.
I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t
Who’s talking? Shut up, compassion.
Put on socks and shoes meditation
…………Once around the desert
…………no dog, nobody
Counting heart stones meditation
…………in the basket, on the ground
Walking the dog meditation
…………out loud, out loud: listen dog. Metta
May i/she be safe may she/i be happy may she be/feel well may she live/die lightly
Gratitude meditation: each day a white stone
…………picked up by the front door by the back garden
…………put down on the ground white stones to a make a mouth:
…………If my mouth were as wide as the seven seas
…………it would not be enough to praise Thee
Be quiet. Make lunch. Notice the thumb, the work of the thumb. Notice the edge of the
Wash the dishes meditation. Metta
may our friend be safe may she be happy may she be well may she live/die lightly
I can’t sit still death death death death. I can’t i can’t i can’t i
…………May she walk in the shadow of death and fear no evil thy arroyo rock and thy
cottonwood staff comfort
Breathe breathe / breathe breathe
Rausch means soul means breath is breath is soul
…………breathe breathe / breathe
…………until the body/ stone
One Toe, Crooked
Let me tell you how it is with me:
a bad back, spine like a snakeskin
shed in the shadow of a pinelet,
weakened innards, a liver fit for soup,
and a brain the size of a lentil. The worst
is the one toe, crooked like a staff
carried too long by shepherds.
One day, a fine mid-autumn
with sun’s eye full open against air’s chill,
I took to the woods to find my dinner.
What with one thing and another
I swayed and shimmered my way along
the path, gravel sticking to my knees from a fall,
my felt shoes catching stones.
But still, I got to the gate where geese cross
coming home from the pond.
What would do me that night?
I was one only, with an oven fit
for a child with money, my prize.
Each night I lit it with a fagot
of wormwood and some willow leaves
with an iron basket suspended over the fire.
Good for roasting corn and potatoes.
Tonight I was hungry against the chill coming.
No ice yet, that was full winter
but now a clutch of eggs to boil in the kettle?
Truly then I saw a girl
lovely as a stalk of silver grain
come around a corner that an oak made
with my barn wall. She carried a bundle
squirming like a peck of tadpoles
and clutched to her chest a stack of books
bound with a strap. She saw me
as a wraith and ran. Was I a wraith?
My toe hurt like hell itself gaped open.
But Ectoplasm I wasn’t. Plain flesh.
Still, she was afraid. Then I could see her babe’s
mouth open, its cries louder with each bounce,
the flannel it was bound with coming loose.
As I watched, standing bent over my toe,
she dropped the books. The belt around them opened.
Pages fanned out on the ground
like parchment put to flame.
What did all this mean in the daylight?
The girl, her babe, the lost books cascading
and over everything pain ascending,
covering our light, all that hope,
the future somehow gone dark as a cavern.
I bent over the mess, began to gather it up.
The woman once upon a time
put on pajamas under a cloak of feathers.
Instead of in bed she swam on the Grande, a swan.
Breakfast in the sun room
raspberries from the gardens (paths, stones, silver props)
clotted cream sour on the table, an etched spoon.
After a while she dropped her knitting along with the gun.
Childhood during war, so many novels and hunger.
The dead stayed invisible, quiet as usual.
She read the London Times and swallowed.
Somebody yelled, “What do you think I mean?” Hit the table.
She puts aside her food, leans forward to say:
Yom Kippur Crumbs
………………………after Sandra Gilbert
Forbidden mash, sweet in our aging body
I stole chunks from the communal table, at dawn
You are the profane yeast of my sins
disintegrating, flowing away under our resolve
The breathed air made you stale, thirsty for water
as we are, here in the desert of our actions
Be the emblem of our resolve:
make bitter the sweet yearning, for cruelty
Dissolve the sour milk in our middens
to empty our stomachs of sin.
Stale loaf, you’re bread from my kitchen
I purge from the shelf, carry to the river
to cast upon waters
You’re promise for an emptied day
of sorrow. No more will I gulp you
as toast to begin a day of distractions
Your molds will float down the waters
to redeem my thoughtless actions
make room for loving kindness
I will hope to absorb as well as give out.
Hilda Raz lives in Placitas, New Mexico, where she is poetry editor of bosque magazine and series editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen endowed poetry series at the University of New Mexico Press. She is Glenna Luschei Professor of English and Gender Studies, emerita, at the University of Nebraska, where she was editor of Prairie Schooner and founding editor of the Prairie Schooner Book Prizes. Her work has been widely published in twelve books, many anthologies and journals.