A Morality Play
In the beginning she was guilty, then her guilt
the drift of rust-rimmed apple leaves,
the latticework of branches whose fruit
lowed their furred, sunlit skins to her mouth, the ragged
cascade of clouds, like so many carriages
of the sun
tumbling behind her—all this stood,
backdrop merely. All this and the embroidered arras
of hummingbirds that chorused her, annunciation,
merely. Her body dreamless, ringed with sheen,
hair rivering the head bent full
on the act of hunger, she held
a divided realm
first in her hand, then to her ear and, as if she
sought to hear the mysterious remorse which lay
brooched to her breast hum its plangent music
through the seeded core, for a long time she stood
still, musing the pose, as shadows raked the grasses
and leaves fell fast in broad chestnut flames
to the percussive hammer of branches within
the walled garden of her many-humored flesh
where she withdrew and in anger barely bridled
Beside her, the river’s quickened flash
concealed none of her tangled wishes. Water
on water fell, a ribbed ladder the upswarm
climbed and where her ignorance, as if surprised
at its own body, took shape. But even
within the monarch of the imaginary, blame
seeks its heir. Each gesture, an elaboration
of. Each progress, a habitation built. Though
she could not have known any of this, could not
have seen behind her the embroidered arras
shake, each winged detail flitting to and fro,
obsessively rearranging the sequence
of her regret until the performance came to its end
and mist unfurled in low blooms to curtain her limbs.
As rumor on rumor fed knows but partially
what the future will hold it responsible for, she watched,
from within her orchard prison, the shifting
pattern of branches narrow an empire
of possibilities at her feet, the yet-
appearing leafing into the past in her mouth. Then
she stepped off the stage, companioned only
by the shame that cottoned her face, and knew,
finally, what she could say. How she felt
a long, delicate frisson shudder through her spine
as each impression arrived egged, inscrutably shelled
from comprehension. How images mortared the gaps:
thin lines of ants, twigs snapping, blazing buttercups,
the warm, ferocious sweetness in her mouth.
She would confess it all to him. How she leaned
forward, raising up bare, soiled heels, her right hand
holding back the sunshine from her eyes as
deep in a meadow a slanting light will alter
its shape and she, at last, plucked
She looked back—cloud-swallow on cloud-swallow,
tree-flame on tree-flame, herself falling into
looked back, her voice
tricked with flood, into the regioned chaos,
into the beginning of—
she, her, this
body: this a ribless chasm, the hallowed hollow
in which the withheld
Dawn. Then its dismantling.
Wan colors that marbled from indigo
to mandarin haze. The swaying rafters above
of lemon and guava trees—fruit
in which sweet still assembled.
Ivy hovering ivy on the ground.
The interwreathing shames. Beds
of gradual green. Let me not forget
the lucent gleams afforded to bodies
by sunlight and fostering cold.
So an orchard. So its lavish gloom.
And a figure leaning over a figure within
with stillness that perfects
the inward economies of uncertainty.
She looked back—a small sea of vitreous
red, across which
a train of lacing leaves, across which
the oblong disc of her face—
and the outlines of things
skimming the rough cloth. Body
of her body. Belonging of bone.
the curve of mourning, she said. This
the vacancies left by debt.
I remember a low stone wall. My knuckles abraded
by its ridged face. Yellow butterflies. Yellow rose vines
weaving through the wall’s crevices. Everywhere
the audiences of summer. Fragments of a world and its smooth surfaces.
Nellikai. Emblica officinalis. The gooseberry tree whose branches
hung their sour load across the roof’s terrace. The many
bee-stung hours my skin turned from almond to chestnut brown
while I lay sated on idleness and licked my tart lips.
Then I rose from the cavern of my daydreams and followed
the lengthened shadow my body cast before me.
Things and the outlines of things.
I see her rise from the cavern of her daydreams. In a body
she does not know has already been named for her, body
stitched inside another for her, body once not
a part of this world or its smooth surfaces. These furred limbs—
does not know, though now childish, that she of these
will one day be matriarch of—no—is already paradigm for—no—
She looked back.
The parent body, the deposed body.
All hers and all imposed on her. Form
neither given nor lent, odor
All this hers and all this imposed on her—
that she looks
and in her looking is made
the object of what she cannot return to, opening
into which she peered and therefore
has roped herself in marriage to.
when she turns, this time not
to look back but to look
at the shadow her body casts
what she sees
is a looming separateness: a green abstract lawn:
as thing: herself as the outline of
a figure in this world and its smooth surfaces.
From shade to sun, from veiled
to revealed pleasure, here bold,
here bare, to sleep of flesh
I wended. What wears me? Mask
this dress, this dress my mask.
In ignorance I willed it.
Shade to shade.