From a cistern in the dome the daylight drips
While the calls to prayer
From the quarter's seven minarets—
Overlapping tape loops of Submission—slip
Down through the arching crescent lunettes
Cut into the air
As if the vault itself had loosened its grip.
I am on my back, listening to the tattoo
Of clogs crisscrossing
The sopping white marble floor inlaid
With veins of still darker matters to pursue.
A skittish gleam accents, like eyeshade,
A fountain's boss in
The corner alcove, where hot and cold make do
In a basin Tony Curtis and Franz Liszt
Both stared into once.
(Stardom is a predictable fate:
The point is forgotten but somehow still missed.)
Gods, whenever they annunciate,
Long for the romance
That ironclad heroes peering through the mist
Or mousy adolescent girls both provide.
The same unlikely
Places—a battlefield or grotto—
Are returned to, while again the hollow-eyed
Ogle in flagrante devoto
And obey, shyly,
The scrambled revelations so true-and-tried.
Congestive, crotch-scented vapor has congealed
Into beads that skid
Along suction-knots and shadow-ends
Abutting my slab. Eager for an ordeal
The illustrated brochure commends
As a bath to rid
The body of its filth both real and unreal,
I have bought their boast, "We make you feel reborn,"
For fifty euros.
Pinched and idly gestured toward a plinth
Two centuries of customers have careworn
To a shallow trough not quite my length,
I'm forced to burrow
Into a pose much more flagellant than faun.
The sodden towel is too heavy now to hold
Itself across me—
And there is the pasha's bay window,
The shriveled bulblet, the whole ill-shaped scaffold
Of surplus fact and innuendo,
From arthritic scree
To the congenital heart flutter's toehold.
The attendant walks up and down on my back,
Pacing the problem,
Then plucks, then mauls, then applies a foam
He scrubs in until it causes an attack
Of radiance, the world's palindrome
Suddenly seeming to surrender its knack
For never allowing us simply to want
What we already
Have, or are, or perhaps could have been.
His hand-signal to get up seems like a taunt.
I lie there, my fist under my chin,
Something gradually, like a tiny font,
Coming into focus. I sit up and start
To notice small bits
Of grit when I run my hand over
My chest. But wasn't this debris the chief part
Of the package deal? The makeover
And its benefits?
In the fog I can't really see what trademark
Schmutz the Oriental Luxury Service
Has failed to wash off.
So I put it in my mouth and taste
Two dank gobbets—salty, glairy, and grayish—
I should have recognized as the waste
That was my old self,
A loofah having scraped it from each crevice
And bulge, from every salacious thought and deed.
Every good one too.
It is the past, not just what is wrong,
It is the embarrassments we still breast-feed,
That we absentmindedly so long
To shed. A new you,
Oneself an innate second person succeeds.
How do the saints feel when they fall to their knees,
God coming to light?
Less ecstatic than ashamed, I fear,
Of bodies never worthy of being seized.
Encumbered by the weight of a tear,
In hopeless hindsight
They see all that the flesh can never appease,
All that the flesh is obliged to mortify.
Here I am, laid out,
Looking up to where nothing appears,
Hardly wondering why nothing satisfies
And yet saddened that it's all so clear.
Trickle. Reservoirs deep underground reply.
Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems
Alfred A. Knopf