In the Kingdom of Pleasure

Unwitting accomplice in the scheme of law
she thought to violate, man-set as it was,
and, here, inconsequential as the sun
at midnight, drought at flood-time—
when she heard a baby in the tall reeds
at the river’s brink, she was nobody’s
daughter, subject of no rule
but the one his need for her established
as she knelt down to quell his crying
with a little tune just seeing him there
had taught her how to hum.

                                        Now as then,
it is the same tune, timelessly in time,
your mother hums as she kneels down
beside your little barge of foam,
smiling to see you smile when she wrings
out from the sponge a ragged string
of water over the chest and belly,
the dimpled loins, the bud so far
from flowering, and the foot slick
as a fish your hand tries to hold up
till it slips back splashing
with such mild turbulence that she laughs,
and you laugh to see her laugh.

Here now, as it was then, it is still
so many years before the blood’s smeared
over doorposts, before the Nile clots
with the first-born, and the women
wailing,wailing throughout the city;
here now again is the kingdom of pleasure,
where they are safe still, mother and child,
from the chartered rod of the Fathers,
and where a father can still pray, Lord,
Jealous Chooser, Devouring Law, keep
away from them, just keep away.

Alan Shapiro, “In the Kingdom of Pleasure” from Covenant (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991). Copyright © 1991 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Covenant (The University of Chicago Press, 1991)
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