[ToC]

 

NARCISSUS REDUX

Jody Kennedy

 

 

Morning: I (33) wake under a canopy of plane tree, streetlights, pigeon shit. Johannes Gutenberg and his fledgling printing press were here. Napoleon Bonaparte and his handmaiden, Josephine, were here. Gustave Doré and his pointed goatee were here. Adolf Hitler and his soulless armies were here. It's drizzling lightly. I crawl out from under heavy military-issue blankets. We're across the street from the old church. The church with two steeples, the church with Saint Brigid of Ireland's dry reliquary bones. My fingers are straight jackets clutching an imaginary cup (coffee—black, two spoons of sugar).

It's the month of the Fishes, the month of the lion laying down with the lamb. The month of beautiful things, flower bouquets on my birthday from my mother, yellow-cupped narcissus bending gently over pools of shimmery smelt running by the thousands (once) in Lake Michigan near Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. The lake—frozen now like Clare's face in my ex-stepfather's Last Camp in America poems. My lips are cold. My lips are catacombs, honeycomb, –20 below wind chill. William Carlos Williams said: So different, this man and this woman: a stream flowing in a field. I leave the field. I leave the heavy military-issue blankets and follow the river south to the public toilets under the Barrage Vauban near the old prison. I pee and hurry back to my old man who's waiting with his cacophony, his madness. How can you love me? He says. I love you with the fierceness of fire, I say.

There are people spilling out into the streets now, spilling out of half-timbered houses, spilling out of Haussmann-style buildings. Nine to five, sweat of the brow, toil and strife. Let a man not eat if he does not work. I will not chop wood or carry water today. Today I will lean on heavy military-issue blankets. We are leaning against a shop window, a window maybe ten feet long and eight feet tall. I am a woman leaning between two men, one, my old man (44), and the other, my old man's Polish friend (42). Behind the shop window there are down-filled pillows and designer comforters soft as a baby's ass, sweet as a newborn lamb. We are so close, si près, yet so far from a warm bed, my old man laughs and leans over and kisses me. His lips are cigarette ash (Gauloises) and stale beer (Bavaria 8/6). My old man's teeth are broken knuckle sockets. This place is like this. This place takes away pearls and gives back glow sticks. This place, Place Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux, Strasbourg, France.

My old man's suddenly vertical and pissing two doors down. Piss, yellow as the wide stripes on the designer comforters behind the shop window we are leaning against. Piss, yellow as the postcard of a Mark Rothko painting (Untitled c.1950–2) I'll buy at the Tate Modern in London four years from now. My old man pisses rocket fuel and last night's merriment. Last night, empty streets, the world warm under fancy chandelier, nine-foot ceiling, 19th-century molding. Last night, leaning against the shop window with my old man and his friend from Poland. March, almost printemps, spring, Botticelli's Primavera. Who am I? I am Botticelli's three graces gliding on air. I am his gray angel. My old man is Mercury flicking an orange peel between his tongue and forefinger. My old man's fingers are the size of candy bars. Last night my fingers were frozen Popsicle sticks under heavy military-issue blankets, under a shadow of plane tree, streetlights, pigeon shit. Last night, I found my old man's blue jeans button. I found my old man's zipper. I cracked the whip. I broke the lock. My fingers worked my old man's zipper like a trapeze artist or a barber straight razing a neck.

Now an old lady brings pain au chocolat, croissants, and pastries filled with cream. The old lady is a sorcerer with a slightly curved back. The old lady's hair is the color of my brother's fishing hooks. I grab the pastries and eat. I am a hyena crouched over a splayed antelope. The cream oozes out, coagulated blood, searing lust, the lost races of Atlantis. Merci Madame, I turn away from the curved old lady and her hair the color of smelt running by the thousands (once) in Lake Michigan near Ellison Bay, Wisconsin (like when I was fifteen, like when I was twenty). Where are my sunglasses? I need my sunglasses. I'm sober as my grandmother's coffee cup, still the morning light is too bright.

Lesbian, my old man says of the old lady after she leaves. I wipe the leftover cream from my mouth with the back of my sleeve. Lesbian: one who is attracted to women, one (perhaps) like the lyrical poet Sappho on the Greek Island of Lesbos, one who meets dark-haired melancholy girl at age seventeen during brief Baudelaire Flowers of Evil period. The girl I wanted to call the General's Daughter. The girl who's breasts I kissed, who's mons Venus was dark and wild, and who (she, the General's Daughter, the one with fingers like silkworms) kept trying to swallow me whole and give birth to me again. She: my animus, my Carl Jung, my Yankee doodle dandy.

Mid-morning: The public library—chilling between stacks of books in French (my French is not that good yet). In the downstairs bathroom alone (finally), tucked away and quiet. The toilet stalls are bright yellow and the floor—dizzy blue and white mosaic tiles. I study my visage in the mirror above the sink—blue eyes, my father's nose, lips my own. I'm in love with a prince disguised as a hobo, a clochard, a vagabond. I close my eyes. I'm upstairs again, flipping through magazines, scribbling notes in my spiral-bound notebook, studying the sky through a tall, bent window. I leave the library and follow the river south toward the public toilets under the Barrage Vauban. There are discarded bottle caps and half-drunk tourists following guides with small, white flags on sticks. I find a bench in the sun (it's stopped raining) and sleep and dream the sun is a tidal wave, a kitten's cheeky paw, a downy comforter with wide yellow stripes.

Afternoon: There is food piling up around us on the heavy military-issue blankets, more old ladies come, a businessman, and a blue-skirted nun come. Baguettes, day-old yogurt in small glass jars, sandwiches with thick cut butter, Swiss cheese, and rosy ham, quiche Lorraine, tarte flambée, pot-au-feu, and Bonne Maman confiture. It's all so, my old man says and sweeps everything aside and instead begs nickels for drinks, the drinks his nectar, his Edgar Allan Poe. Never mind, I say. My old man and I—kings on pine needle thrones, queens in fair weather and foul. My old man laughing thunder and proselytizing stray dogs.

Evening: My old man and his Polish friend are telling stories. Neil Armstrong moon landings, Spanish bullion dives in the Mediterranean Sea, sheep herding in the Pyrenees, high-heeled women with rusty Opinel pocket knives. I'm an open book, a sitting duck, with no roof and no key. I crawl under the heavy military-issue blankets. It's drizzling lightly. Later, the streets are empty, an abandoned movie set with tumbleweed blowing through, a cemetery at cockcrow, the world tucked away warm on mattresses made of batten wool. My old man's Polish friend passes out and is snoring. I'm alone with my old man again (finally). My fingers are frozen Popsicle sticks under heavy military-issue blankets, under a shadow of plane tree, streetlights, and pigeon shit. I find my old man's blue jeans button. I find my old man's zipper. I see my reflection in the zipper's golden copper light. I am Narcissus skipping flat stones. My fingers working my old man's zipper like a trapeze artist or a barber straight razing a neck.

 

 

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This prose poem was inspired by a typical day spent with one who I once loved with the fierceness of fire.