A LEAN AND HUNGRY LOOK
They say I think too much,
but if that fellow won’t look back, or can’t
(his training being much as mine once was),
who’s left to correspond? — To correspond:
to be the same or opposite,
the perfect match.
That was what we wished for way back when.
Today the images collide,
their colors break out from forms and make
my spectral skies of ecstasy, which is to say
the ones collected in my mind can’t bed with just any you,
and yet they formulate a new extreme where passion
occupies a fractal universe, wholly mine.
The ones I’d love are gone; their children’s
children serve me in the market, bring coffee
to my table when I ask and pay. They leave at night
for rooms I never see. What makes them,
all together in my mind, more than what their fathers were?
Is this the route all follow, or was it meant
as mine? Here ambition takes the face of care,
repeats where I have been. The beach defines itself.
There I find the hands imagination holds
in my wizened mind. I’m old.
And so I would be ready, John.
yet my good will holds me back. I must
depend on pictures. Let’s
sit beside salt water, gesticulate.
I like the one displayed beside us.
He’s thinking he’s the first to feel
the way he does.
He hasn’t seen the other soldiers yet;
he doesn’t know that he’s alone. I’m wanting
just his features as a memory before he’s
in the trenches, before he loses life.
Touching in the mind is worthier than life.
My inner village is a set of images, perfections.
My gaze is self-produced. Fashion made
him wear that tight white bathing suit, not
knowing what I’d see in him. He’s my display
and comes for free.
His limbs, resilient, submit to sleep.
I have so much. Privacy is nothing to
the mind. He cannot hesitate unless
I want him to. He will never understand.
He will never see.
He’ll never run from this bare room
that I define, in which my wizard self
can work its will traducing lineaments
to make that body feel less worthy
and, now humbled, look the way it should.
The old men gather on the boardwalk
as if a dream of wife were all there were,
some lady lost in games played long ago,
but here beside the water all is new.
The beach defines itself.
Ecstatic isolation is the only fact
my ending will allow.
Everything seen from the doorway, from the window, from the entrance to another room. Everything seen is possessed. We collect these images as we collect our feelings and find they are the same; we do not need to touch.
Our minds are albums of desire and what we don’t desire. The albums are what we are. Augustine told us that the great thing was to love, and love is compassion, which is much too easy, cheap. That toward which we feel compassion is what we also are. We save compassion for our work and family festivals and other things that matter less than what desire makes its own. There is nothing worthy but our mental albums, in the end.
I’ve arranged mine with tremendous care. Here in this village of things (the seeds that have made me what I am), this village is a place where everything looks old but has a vibrancy you can’t imagine (it must clasp you; it must be fuel that gives your winter warmth). I collect my images on streets and in the malls. In churches. In my office among my patients. On my travels. I can claim to be no more than things I see. That’s all we are.
A few small images I capture with my camera, to hold them still, and frame them for my office wall. I’ve surfed the net in search of more.
We’ve heard Mormon missionaries say they want the names of everyone who’s lived. The names are kept in vaults for just their church and God to see. Imagine names as pictures, our pleasant horde of images in vaults, broken open only when we service what they need, and with ferocious speed we feel their essence as the moment breaks us from within. Inside these beings that our images create, we lave ourselves and enter joy and hold ourselves transfixed by night.
To my patients, photos on my office walls seem only documents of places I have been, yet I treasure these images in other ways and brush my hands like fleece across their surfaces.
Years ago I walked along a beach near Alexandria and thought of Callimachus and the way he loved. I saw two youths embrace beside a dune and knew exactly why Apollo’s seen only by the good and why youth must not be still when he visits there. I saw Cavafy’s grave and realized he’d felt the way I do. I saw the spot where Alexander lay for centuries, and in my mind all this added up to more than what you read, more than just the words. You know such final truths only when you deeply know yourself.
I swam in reed lagoons and closed my eyes to old rich houses near the shore. I wanted just the feel of wet reeds on my chest.
We are given so few years, I tell my patients, and as they wish, I prescribe their medications just as the god Asclepias once did. But all this comes to nothing when my work is done, my secretary’s gone, and I can close the door. The money’s earned; the patients’ bodies work. I’ve given, all day long, medicines that make my patients feel the way they think they should.
Then the work of living starts again or should, theirs as well as mine, and there’s nothing in it worth those medications or the mounds of goods in stores, buying/selling things, for they can give us nothing that our god Apollo can. All that matters is that I see everything I can and store the good parts in my albums, ready for release. That release is my Pandora’s jar, sweet smelling, pouring out dark fluid joy that only ends when morning makes me work again.
I know my patients well and hear them worry over things they cannot change. I’ve known many men who only want to please their wives and, fearful, ask me for the pills so as to be the men they think they need to be. Such silly men they are: my friends, these men are fifty, sixty, even more, and it’s time for them to stop performing as if making love were something that must be seen. There’s a better world for older men. There always was.
Their beings, flaccid skin, have cracked apart and become aging, incoherent needs to reproduce what once was intimately felt. I used to think that just my women patients were the ones who suffered from a need to see themselves displayed in love but now it seems the universal creed, and I find these aging men insisting that they have to please in order that they please themselves.
But as for me, I think again of copper-colored gods who burned the sand for me in Egypt, the boys beside that dune. What pathos, given scenes like that, must we all feel for those encapsulated in the rooms they know too well where just some old performance is enforced.
I stand here in my solitary space and have no wish. My patients have their pleasures as they want. The world moves on. The traffic doesn’t stop. As for me, I only need to walk toward that bright dune, for that’s enough, far more than those sad husbands ever know.