In the Cold Kingdom

By Mona Van Duyn 1921–2004 Mona Van Duyn

"The younger brother roasted a breast of Pishiboro's
elephant wife and handed Pishiboro some, which he
presently ate. Then the younger brother said in a
voice full of scorn. 'Oh you fool. You lazy man. You
were married to meat and you thought it was a
wife.'"
    FROM A MYTH OF THE BUSHMEN

Poised upside down on its duncecap,
a shrunken purple head,
True Blueberry,
enters its tightening frame of orange lip,
and the cream of a child’s cheek is daubed with
Zanzibar Cocoa, while
      Here at the Martha Washington
      Ice Cream Store
      we outdo the Symbolistes.
a fine green trickle—
Pistachio? Mint Julep?
      Words have colors,
      and colors are tasty.
sweetens his chin.
In front of me Licorice teeters like a lump of coal
on its pinkish base of Pumpkin.
      A Rauschenberg tongue
      fondles this rich donnée,
      then begins to erase it.
 
Turning from all that is present
in the flesh, so to speak,
let the eye wander off to a menu,
where it can start to ingest
“Quite Sour Lemon sherbet
topped with a stem cherry and chocolate sprinkles
     Swilling in language,
all floating in bubbly cherry phosphate
     the bloated imagination
     is urged to open still wider
     and shovel it in,
and served with a twist of pretzel.”
In this world “Creamy Vanilla and
Smooth Swiss Chocolate ice creams”
can be “blended with chopped pineapple,
dark fudge sauce, ripe bananas, whipped topping,
cookies, roasted nutmeats and nippy chopped cherries.”
    the Unconscious, that old hog,
    being in charge here of the
    creative act.
 
At about the moment my tastebuds
receive a last tickle of Gingersnap
and begin to respond to
Orange Fudge, I look at you
who have bought my ice cream cones for twenty years,
    Moving another new ice to the mouth
    we needn’t remember
and look away
    it is always the same mouth
    that melts it.
My mind assembles a ribald tower
of sherbet dips, all on one cone,
Apricot, Apple, Tangerine, Peach, Prune, Lime,
and then it topples.
You are steadier than I.
You order one dip always,
or, in a dish, two dips of the same flavor.
 
In this hysterical brilliance of neon
    Come on, consumers,
    we’ve got to keep scooping
it is twelve or fifteen of us
to thirty ice creams.
     so that the creams shall not rise
     like cold lava out of their bins,
     numbing our feet, our knees,
     freezing our chests, our chins, our eyes,
Open the door, quick,
and let in two handholding adolescents.
Coping with all those glands
makes them good and hungry.
    so that, flying out of their cannisters,
    the chopped nuts
    shall not top off our Technicolor grave
    with their oily ashes.
 
Listen! All around us toothsome cones
are suffering demolition
down to the last, nipple-like tip.
How do we know where to stop?
Perhaps the glasses and dishes
are moulded of candy, and the counters and windows…
      Over your half-eaten serving of Italian Delight,
      why are you looking at me
      the way you are looking at me?
 

Mona Van Duyn, "In the Cold Kingdom" from If It Be Not I: Collected Poems 1959-1982. Copyright © 1959 by Mona Van Duyn.  Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: If It Be Not I: Collected Poems 1959-1982 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)

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Poet Mona Van Duyn 1921–2004

Subjects Living, Marriage & Companionship, Midlife, Life Choices, Relationships, Home Life, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Popular Culture, Love, Realistic & Complicated