Wilde's Tomb

But these, thy lovers are not dead.…They will rise up and hear your voice. . .. and run to kiss your mouth.
         –The Sphinx

In the garden of Père Lachaise,
city of the dead, we passed angels
covering their faces in shame,
& nineteenth-century trees, with tops bowed
as if their only purpose was to grieve,
& crossed the Transversales to Wilde’s grave.
When lovers leave, they leave their kisses
glistening on the gray slab,
on impressions of lips themselves,
a tissue of strangers’ cells
the conservators cannot leave alone,
& scrub the graffiti, as the plaque decrees
by law, no one can deface this tomb,
& still the images of lips remain,
dark gray stains of animal fat
imprisoned in limestone.
Lips are pressed as high as lovers
climb, against the Sphinx’s ridiculous
headdress, on the carved trumpet
of fame, & on the cheeks of its voracious face
of mindless passion flying with eyes pinched tight,
that some farsighted lover tried to open
with lines from a red pen, like a blepharoplasty,
while others kissed its sybaritic mouth
to make a poem a prophecy.
So here is love alive
surviving the wreckage it survives,
a lipstick envelope of hearts on their flight
to some other place, less aware,
more receiving, a final Champ de Grâce.

Michael Gessner, "Wilde’s Tomb" from Selected Poems.  Copyright © 2016 by Michael Gessner.  Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2016)
More Poems by Michael Gessner