A Version of Paolo and Francesca

By Peter Balakian b. 1951 Peter Balakian

It was not Virgil you read
(though I asked you to), but the Peruvian,   
part Indian, part cousin of Lorca

whose words were spiky points,   
wafts of privet, week-old cod.

When you breathed them at me   
nothing in the outer world ceased   
its turbulent grim direction.

You breathed on my unhooked   
eyes and uncovered me.

Above the roof a windfucker smacked   
the air,
and wind kept eating the island rocks.


We ate along the riverside at sundown.
The clear green juice dripped from my mouth.

We didn’t fuck missionary on clean sheets.   
I lost my head between your legs.   
My nose spreading like honey.

A whiff of narcissus swept across us.
I ate the flowers whole, tried to outfox   
Satan with my tongue.

I felt as if I shimmied up your legs to find   
this point on the Jersey cliffs.   
The sun was God’s eye.

I plugged my ears so I wouldn’t hear your crappy verse,   
then tore into your pants like a scared cat.

The Chrysler Building was a pin.   
I tasted you five hundred feet   
as the Hudson pulled me under.

Peter Balakian, “A Version of Paolo and Francesca” from June-Tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Balakian. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: June-tree: New and Selected Poems (2001)

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Poet Peter Balakian b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Allusion

 Peter  Balakian


Peter Balakian is the author of several collections of poetry, including June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974–2000. His recent book, Ziggurat (2010), wrestles with the aftermath and reverberations of 9/11. His poems have been widely anthologized, including in the 1985 Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, and have been translated into several languages. He has published essays on poetry, culture, and art in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Allusion

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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