In Les Femmes d'Alger one smoking woman
straightens her red stress. Shifts: repose.
I swear the docent whispered so,
an eyeball's swerve undresses
only proximal garb. I leave
into a city's leaf-cluttered air, that statue
of invasion amid which a streetlamp poses
goddess-like. Those long angles steady
like the linear fashion of the stunted
ginkgoes that balanced this morning.
My lover still naked in the dark
shuttered bed attempted
same. What version of sanity have we
been rushing toward? I'm looking
for a geometry I can scale,
asking directions. I swear the goddess
is after my stumble. I snap back:
I know all about the inevitable, don't I
slip into my Eve costume
each midnight and wait for disaster?
My lover paces the bedroom. He'd count
the women in the painting as one woman
in phases, each an impersonation.
I arrive at the apartment—brick atop brick
without mortar, stairs atop stairs
without helix—but really,
I don't need a rail. I flash forward when I fall.
I began writing this poem alongside my students, following my own ridiculously detailed prompt. It's the first chapter of a novel that could never be finished.