Nude Descending

By Alicia Ostriker b. 1937 Alicia Ostriker
Like a bowerbird trailing a beakful of weeds   
Like prize ribbons for the very best

The lover, producer   
Of another’s pleasure

He whom her swollen lips await
Might wing through any day of the decade

A form of health insurance   
For which it is never too late

Titanic, silver brush
Hindenburg, of exploding cigars a climax

The watery below, the fiery above
Ashes of print between—pigment between


If the crippled woman were to descend   
From her bed, her fortress beyond midnight

Downstairs (nude/staircase) to the kitchen   
Naked to sit at the table (writing/thinking)

She might hear the washer spin like a full orchestra   
Complete a cycle like a train crash

Before the fiend would stare through the window   
Step smoothly into the kitchen, stop some clocks.

Envy shapes a fig tree in one’s breast,   
That is, bluntly to say, a cancer,

That is to say
In a mind, a fertile windy field. A murdered child.

Well then, fear, primarily of falling.   
Ebony surf toils on the beach, a glaze

At the same moment I am (from a cliff) falling   
The kitchen fiend removes his Dior tie

Places his hand over the woman’s   
And softly says: I am the lover.


Now if the crippled woman began to dance   
To pirouette, to rumba

Growling for her child
Her burning page, the devil would be shamed

(Materialism is not for everyone / Religion is   
The extension of politics by other means)

Would disembody like a wicked smoke   
Back to the status of myth

Away he’d streak, blue, into the—
O faun, we would finally call, farewell

O faun, we would faintly faintly call   
O faun, we would, we would fondly—

She does not dance. She does not wish   
To produce another’s pleasure.

They have torn her apart   
Into beige rectangles.

Alicia Ostriker, “Nude Descending” from The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998. Copyright © 1998 by Alicia Ostriker. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Little Space: Poems Selected and New 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

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Poet Alicia Ostriker b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Love, Painting & Sculpture, Men & Women, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Desire

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Ekphrasis