Ode On Psyche (2001)

Sitting in Psyche’s parlor, I almost touched her—
    she stretched herself towards me, cat-like,
closing ice-blue eyes full of crocodile water,
     & her stomach bare, & her hair blue-striped—
like a Sphinx she reposed, with a riddle of flesh,
    to be solved in tongue-touching tenderness,
         despite Cupid shooting off on the phone—
like a moon she arose, & her lips mine enmeshed,
       I clutched, clasped her in a teenage caress,
          her Mom didn’t notice the moans.

If youth were faithful, Eros be damned,
     Cruel Cupid would never leave home—
back seats would stop rocking, beds be shammed,
      & Venus would go home alone—
in parks, in bars, the war went on,
    in which all is fair but fairness,
       all full of joy but the spurned—
in darkened cars, on new mown lawns,
     enraptured or raptly embarrassed,
        ripe-full of the pleasures that burned.

Years passed ‘til I saw Psyche again,
     ripe for a time & then jaded—
we kissed, talked, she bade me a friend,
      her beauty unworried, untainted—
no elfin grot enclosed her, no cave,
    Manhattan she recklessly roamed,
       courted by rich men & thieves—
wild eyes pin-wheeled on parties, raves,
      small morning hours her home,
          for nothing & no one she grieves.

I fell at her feet, she flung me away,
     her friend came, some E hits to buy—
I tossed on a tape, she laughed as it played,
     “Roxannneeee” came the heart-rending cry—
she counted five hundreds, hid them away,
    pulled out her poems, asked me to read them,
        walking her friend to the door—
I weighed all my options, if I should stay,
       holding the poems, not wanting to read them,
          feeling absurd on her floor.

She padded back softly, opened a window,
     stretched herself out on the sagging bed—
I moved in beside her, close as a shadow,
      moved in to touch her with joy & dread—
she stopped me at her silver belt,
      sensing why my words were soft,
           not about to blow her stolid cover—
I couldn’t burn her surface off,
     couldn’t make her armor melt,
         that wouldn’t let me be her honest lover.

Stoned in the gloaming, dead on my feet,
      the Village I hit & then ran—
did she like me, or did my bluster defeat
      my manhood, slipped out of her hands?
To her body, taut with muscle,
    a goddess of bed, Venus unseen to her lover,
         notes torn from shadows of sighs—
my body, all I’d hustled,
       seemed irrelevant, dead, & like a crab with no cover,
            crawled into the “D” train, & cried.

The Ode On Psyche was originally published in American Writing: A Magazine in 2002.