lines for sunday past

This alone is what I wish for you: knowledge.
To understand each desire has an edge,
to know we are responsible for the lives we change.

There are no curses–only mirrors
held up to the souls of gods and mortals.
And so I give up this fate, too.
Believe in yourself,
go ahead–see where it gets you.

Rita Dove, Demeter’s Prayer to Hades

I think you must have died, my dear, alone and long ago.
was this what you spent months striving to say, to let me know?
that years before I strayed across your gravel-scattered path,
you’d gorged yourself on groveling, starved even with the fact?
how your affair was only with my falsities of health:
an excuse to consume your crude inconstancy of self?

what searing subterfuge crammed you amid the ribs and chest,
until it stuck within you and you gasped for grotesque breath—
all viscus then reviled, like an oaken, oath-bound death?

I still relive the sylvan-tinge of every bedroom scene,
I strip down each grim facet to a cold celestial gleam:
the cloying light of stars that burned out long before our birth,
the empty words and bare mattress and writhing curves of earth.

I pressed my tongue to your heart’s mouth and every nerve within,
I learned the salt-fine shoreline of your sycophantic skin.
at yawning, yearning hollows of each womblike, wounded shriek:
my knuckles pressed against your throat, I made those chasms speak.

you knelt among the rattlesnakes, a name astride my feet,
your tongue like a communion that you’d ground between your teeth.
but you clenched wrenching hunger far too long against your jaw,
and rancor trickled from your lips against the hawkish maw.
now, in an absence of the flesh, your incoherence grows—
ingrate, you apostate, you write like a carrion-crow.

I wonder, who will feed you now, or will you still gnaw bones:
old cartilage of catharses whose geneses I owned?
these eyes of mine are not mere oak, but cedar and cypress:
the long-suffering crucibles of blood-enamored bliss.
ciphers, which you still infect, affected and immersed,
slip sighing now across the hearse-like wreckage of your verse.

where once you would wax phrases like fresh phases of the moon,
rose-blushed ivy, sweet and damp, its ichor still in bloom—
where once you were Diana to each climbing silver vine,
now you only mutter, ramble, perjure, profess, pine.

where is the poet of Golgotha, every word imbibed
with caustic notes of Calvary all carved out and contrived?
or have you always been just this, a vagrant parasite:
a vice with nine false lives and an indecent appetite?

were you only as barbed, then, as your subject’s own shrewd mind,
when you subsumed a cast of unearned clauses—namely, mine?

bright-betrayed each Judean day, I knelt to kiss you still:
your countenance was skull-like then, a torment wrought at will.
every new dark dawning was a murder you obeyed:
and any longer then to live, my resolution swayed.
I bedded a serpent and a faithless one at that:
you left me for the vultures, quite ruined and yet intact.
and so I’ll make you rue it, now—not finishing the act.

for half-famished idols you sang hymnals of remorse,
but ate of my flesh freely all the while in your course.
look now at the knot you wrought, in contrition or sin:
these sinews bared in intimate intricacies of skin.
embracing the false lance as though a lover or cross,
impaled on sweet emaciation like a promise lost.
rotting fruits of your vows hung like carnage as I writhed:
a travesty to rival fallen Tantalus, revived.

some Mary found me on my hands, all wrenched with vitriol:
a stillborn child of her heart, upon a seventh soul.
the house of self-undoing, where I cleaved my mind to hers:
your perjury is inconclusive: I am purged quite pure.
her flames deform the body, yet they render me near-sane
and so I give my life to this most recent Gethsemane.

you are a kind of nothing now, abhorrent and effaced—
would you were as easy to forgive, as to replace!

but you know this as well as any litany you sing:
there is a vow you failed to keep, a horror that still clings.
you understand, in ending this, we will be quite alone;
still, you offer old lies to the histories I own.
I do not fear memories, those vows are yours to break:
even so, may Lethe save the lover you next take.

 I still dream sometimes, these days, of your false carnage-cries
and of your starving arms about this spectacle entwined,
we were not alike, not in the slightest, you and I—
but were not Janus and Judas each foremost of their kind?