Flaubert wore himself out
trying to imitate the cry
of the camel, rattle interrupted
by a gargle; he wanted to take it back
with him. Kuchuk’s bedbugs fascinated him
too, their smell mingled with the scent
of her skin. I want, he told her, a touch
of bitterness in things. Temples,
the sand dunes, the very Nile itself–
they all made him lazy and he wrote home:
“I think of nothing at all, not even
the elevated thoughts one should have
here in the presence of ruins!”
He sent his letter, then went off
to visit Kuchuk of the long legs again,
wondering if she had felt any pleasure
since “undoubtedly” her little button
had been circumcised when she was little.
I who have been to Egypt confess
I saw another country. In Cairo
I was followed by a man and had to run.
In a bus a tall man rubbed against me
in a crowd so tight I couldn’t leave,
and I twisted away from his crotch.
At night I couldn’t leave my cheap hotel.
I sat there at the desk thinking how
I’d like to meet Kuchuk, I’d like to stand
listening to camels, I’d like to be safely lazy
lying on the banks of the Nile while
I squeezed bedbugs between my fingernails,
reflecting on the touch of bitterness in things.
Finding Wild Bees on My Sister’s Farm Near Baltimore, Ohio
The swarm of bees droops from the appletree
in a ripe pear shape, deep brown,
an angry buzzing under the damp bough.
But, the beeman says, their bellies
are so full of honey, you can pick them up
and take them home to your hive.
Hold the box for me, please,
while I drop them in, dazed with smoke.
How must it be to gather that buzzing
into its own box, closing the lid
on the deep pear of the swarm, queen
in the center and the drones
clinging in their multitude
to her homing instinct, to her sex?
And the blossom-pink branch bends
from that angry weight, while the damp air
lies heavy with dew and heat, spring
coming on like a bitter wreck,
my body puffy with humidity,
with jet lag, dark with its own sting,
its own brown honey, its own multitude of wings.
He tilled the stars in the dull heaven
of the soil, stars of white pearl
with green at the tip. It made him dizzy
to glance up at that other garden.
As he walked beside the rows
searching for what had appeared overnight
he wanted to prophesy. There, right there,
a new nodule, a new comet’s tail, a root
of heaven. The sky itself so heavy
he felt it about to fall on his shoulders,
felt how it lowered over his life.
He needed a plow long enough, sharp enough
to cut it to tatters so he could seed
the low slivers of cloud, long rows
of watery blue. He could bring
these heavens together, raising one,
pulling the other down.