The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Barbara J. Orton
It's me, she said, under your window howling.
I've crimped my hair for you. I'm wearing lipstick.
I've drunk hard liquor to make my eyes burn for you.
I'm sucking hard candy to make my mouth sweet.
I've brought you a bean cake, a red mouth full of stories.
That's my underwear hanging from your sill.
I've brought you my reasons, my hands full of ashes.
Give up your wife, give up your baby girl.
He holds it by the hair,
the calm young man, his body half in shadow
and half an improbable gold:
the monster's head turned away from him
toward you, as if to show what he's done.
The face, not so much brutish as weary--
dark heavy lids, shadows from eye to jaw,
and the wet glint of a bottom tooth
in the open mouth--gapes like an aging man
snoring in his chair.
He painted them three times,
boy and man, before and after
his own death sentence and exile:
in the last picture, he posed himself
for the severed head.
You can't help noticing that Goliath's face
is David's face, but older
by twenty years, the head of a father.
It makes you think of that other scene
Caravaggio painted, with the ram
and bland angel in shadow, and in harsh light--
picked out, bone-white and terrified--
Isaac's face pressed under his father's thumb.
Some say the word of Caravaggio's pardon
reached him before his death.
Some say it never did. Before he died
"he wandered for two days screaming at the sun
and cursing a ship that only he could see."
Four hundred years and still you walk away thinking,
The knife is at his throat.
ALPHABET OF THE SLEEPLESS NIGHT
All the letters I wrote you
Ashes scattered where I'll never see
Broken plates in the kitchen
Bodies twined in your guest bed
Civility, a long painful friendship
Dreams carrying me back to St. Louis
Decency: what I always forgot
Envying even her unhappiness
Entrails full of blood
Fire swallowing what's left
Fear, even now, of what you'd think
Ghosts dressed in flannel
Grinding my teeth
How you stopped eating
I make a better mistress than a wife
If only I could sleep
Jealousy, too mild a word
Justice would hang someone
Kissing your throat
Kindness is no good: I want the truth
Light verse you wrote for me
Living too long
Meeting the grown children at your deathbed
Mostly I remember the sex
Nasty things to say at the funeral
Next to God, I liked you best
Orgasms, your hand inside me
--Oh, you said. Oh.
Paintings of Judith and Holofernes
Poems I couldn't publish until now
Quiet in the empty house
--Quick, before she gets home!
Reading Shakespeare out loud
Savage: what I became
Sending e-mail even though I know you're dead
Trembling when I kissed you
Truth wasn't what I wanted, after all
Ugly things I said
Visiting the museum together
Wandering the city looking for you
Waking to remember you're gone
X-rated phone calls
Your wife, always so polite
"You're neurotic, you're a shiksa...you're my type"
Zero, in the end
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