The Menage

Up stand
in a
the stems
               dark green,
          as they descend
into the water/
                      seen through
a thicket
               of baby’s breath, “a tall herb
bearing numerous small,
                                    fragrant white flowers.”
I have seen
                  snow-drops larger.
I bent my face down.
                               To my delight
they were convoluted
                               like a rose.
They had no smell,
                            their white
the grain of Biblical dust,
                                        which like the orchid itself
is as common as hayseed.
                                     Their stems were thin and woody
but as tightly compacted
                                     as a tree trunk,
greenish rubbings showing in spots
                                                    through the brown;
wiry, forked twigs so close,
                                           they made an impassable bush
which from a distance
                                 looked like mist.

I could barely escape
                                 from that wood of particulars ...
the jonquils whose air within
                                             was irradiated topaz,
silent as in an ear,
                               the stems leaning lightly
against the glass,
                            trisecting its inner circle
in the water,
                     crossed like reverent hands
(ah, the imagination!
Enter monks.
                   Oops, sorry!
                  on Japanese space.
Exit monks
                and all their lore
from grace).

I was moved by all this
                                    and murmured
to my eyes, “Oh, Master!”
                                       and became engrossed again
in that wood of particulars
                                          until I found myself
out of character, singing
         “Tell me why you’ve settled here.”

         “Because my element is near.”
and reflecting,
                        “The eye of man cares. Yes!”

But a familiar voice
                               broke into the wood,
a shade of mockery in it,
                                       and in her smile
a fore-knowledge
                         of something playful,
something forbidden,
                               something make-believe
something saucy,
                         something delicious
about to pull me
                         off guard:
“Do you want to be my Cupid-o?”

In fairness to her
                            it must be said
that her freckles
                           are always friendly
and that the anticipation
                                       of a prank
makes them radiate
                            across her face
the way dandelions
                            sprout in a field
after a summer shower.

“What makes you so fresh,
                                       my Wife of Bath?
What makes you so silly,
                                     o bright hen?”

“That’s for you to find out,
                                           old shoe, old shoe.
That’s for you to find out
                                        if you can.”

“Oh yeah!”
                (a mock chase and capture).
“Commit her
                  into jonquil’s custody.
She’ll see a phallus
                               in the pistil.
Let her work it off there.”

But I was now myself
                                  under this stringent force
which ended,
                   as real pastorals in time must,
in bed, with the great
                                  eye of man, rolling.

Carl Rakosi, “The Menage” from The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986). Used with the permission of Marilyn J. Kane.
Source: The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (National Poetry Foundation, 1986)
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