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Jean-Paul Belmondo

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it begins with your face of a stone
where lips repose like two seals
in a coastal mist of cigarette smoke
you move through the streets—
listing them
is as useless as naming waves.

                       (that city is so handsome for a reason—
                        it was made out of your rib)

it continues with my
          skidmarked by a dress
body. i stand on the border
on heels like my sixth toes
and show you
where to park.

that very night
lying together
                        in the dogs yard
       —flowers are biting my back!—
you whisper:
          the longer i look on the coins of your nipples
          the clearer i see the Queen’s profile.

for you, body and money are the same
as the chicken and the egg.
the metaphor of “a woman’s purse”
escapes you.
stealing, you like to mumble:
a purse is a purse is a purse is a purse.
also:
a real purse in your hand is worth
two metaphorical purses over your mouth.

they tell me
          you are a body
                        anchored to the shore by its rusting blood.
your wound darkens on your chest like a crow.
i tell them—as agreed—that you are my youth.
an apple that bit into me to forget its own knowledge.

death hands you every new day like a golden coin.
as the bribe grows
it gets harder to turn it down.
your heart of gold gets heavier to carry.

your hands know that a car has a waist
and a gun—a lobe.
you take me where the river once lifted its skirts
and God, abashed with that view,
ordered to cover that shame with a city.

its dance square
shrank by the darkness to the size
of a sleeping infant’s slightly open mouth.
i cannot tell between beggars’ stretched hands
and dogs’ dripping tongues.
you cannot tell between legs—
                    mine—tables’—chairs’—others’.

that dance square is a cage
where accordions grin at dismembered violin torsos.
beggars lick thin air off their lips.
women whirling in salsa slash you
across the chest with the blades
of their skirts soiled with peonies.
Source: Poetry (December 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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Jean-Paul Belmondo

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  • Born in Minsk, Belarus (part of the former Soviet Union), in 1981, Valzhyna Mort has been praised as “[a] risen star of the international poetry world” by the Irish Times. When she moved to the United States in 2005, she had already published her first book, I’m as Thin as Your Eyelashes, and was known across the world as an electrifying reader of her poems. Her debut collection in America, Factory of Tears, has received acclaim: the New Yorker writes, “Mort strives to be an envoy for her native country, writing with almost alarming vociferousness about the struggle to establish a clear identity for Belarus and its language.” She composes her poems in Belarusian as attempts are being made to revitalize the traditional language, which lends her work both conventional and groundbreaking tones. Mort reads in both Belarusian and English, and so the poem “New York” provides an ideal context...

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