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Two Poems
The Legs of the Countess

—after photographs of the Countess Castiglione (1837–1899)

Play your hand, Madame.
      Black stripe down
your dress, keyhole slit,
      door to a dark room.

If you’re a pawn, why not play
      it up in kohl,
the camera your consort
      and consolation.

Queen of Hearts,
      holding a switch-
blade bouquet.
      And the Hermit

of P*ssy. Society pages said: Carmelite
      of Beauty, she retreated
into herself rather
      than retreating into God.

You rolled in glue and feathers
      to be plucked
clean by your courtiers.
      That’s how it feels, Honey,

desire’s a sticky bird.
      Beauty means not being,
stage-managing absence.
      Mascara’s an Italian wand

for waning eyes. Your arsenic gaze—
      the gentle moth wings
a poison semaphore 
      in your shuttered suites.

You did not go with grace.
      Your chalky calves,
long toes shaped
      and dyed like marzipan.

You wrote a treatise on Beauty;
      your makeup tips. And died.
No one could recall 
      the color of your eyes. 


Mephista Recounts Her Past Lives, 
or Nanotechnology

Newsflash, Missus—machines
have been invented
to invent machines.
I know you depend
on me to make your name.
But before you plucked
me canopic, I peddled atoms
at the linear accelerator;
I kept myself in penny dreadfuls
by importing diction illegally.
After fencing with Herr Doctor
Faustus, after purely scientific
revelations, I came to
with this jingle:
“That’s what happens/
in nuclear fusion.”
Though I was orphaned
as Orpheus before you,
I’m no liar. I trawled
and groveled rather intelligently.
Adhere to these warnings, Miss B.:
If you try to remove the blemish
from my cheek by chemistry,
correct my limp by a-mal-gams
I’ll dissolve and you’ll be dissolute. 
But like a good child,
(Edgar to Glouster) 
when you de-sire, 
when you want to leave
me to history
I’ll take you to the edge—
what you think is the edge, is death—
watch you flounder
in the shallows. I’ll hand you
the pistol after emptying the chamber.