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tearing the rag off the bush again
Seven Poems PDF E-mail

Consorting With Wedlock

Photo, one, alliance

Too much crap, though it is perhaps impolitic to notice. What is hidden pretends indifference, erases itself, recodes another desire. Will you phone me later? The dress hangs in the closet, embalmed in plastic. A set of curves, a line in back, a dance of vertebrae marches into blue. Velvet has other ideas, permissions, capacities. Will you enumerate these? I desire and what I doubt, the way her fingers move over the keys of the piano. Or stumble. The way his fingers slide over her vertebrae. The clothes belong in the hamper. In the morning, she lifts off the protective plastic, crushes indigo against her skin. Will you be there to interrogate? Her back was bare, even in the photo. You phone later when the coffee is ready. Memory scores her. The dress, the spill of white beneath her hips, gleaming, the way light scatters through voile, even that cannot erode that fact of her hunger, the glance over her shoulder. She turns her back on us. What would you do with such a back?

Photo, two, coupling

The branch of orchids depends on air, the bright grip of her fingers preventing their escape. Such flight is inevitable. Her neck bends toward her shoulder, forgetful. Even here, seventeen years in the past, the sound of Navy fighters penetrates. Fastforward another war, moving at the user’s discretion. It requires timing to create an illusion. Ten o’clock sun climbing over the pines kindles the surface of the pacific. Swallows tumble up cliffs. But her hand, that remains open to question. If her fingers play over the stem is that foreplay? Certainly provocative that rustle of satin and tulle. Her smile intimate with the dust on her shoes. Voile only half-obscures her back. Again her back, honied flesh descending through a frame of dark blue. She surfs bare-bodied in that blue, the pulse of the wave shuddering where her joined palms drive downward into it. But the backward gaze haunts us. Is it hers? The camera’s attention insists on her notice. She looks away, light falling into water.

Photo, three, conjugality

In the vertigo of light’s collapse, there remains little to reassure us. The curve of her back, the warmth of her skin, a width of shoulders and hips. The transition shapes a necessary waist. A weighted necessity. Can you stand? Touch consumes touch, a subtle abrasion. In the seams between self and other, glance and gaze furrow, tumbling in a caress of their own. Color erodes, advances a neutral palette, night’s gray disorientation. A lost blue a lost amber. Even rose diminishes in this light. A gaze becomes a graze, a minim bounding intention and affection. Or binding. Such inflammations also necessary, as her fingers abandon voile and the lost blue. She refuses parody. Parity. Can we imagine grace? Redemption in the arms of another falters, inevitably, losing ground to the rules of concealment. Silk confuses touch, obliterates boundary. Her breath whispers against his ear. Here, hear? Promising misadventure. Crane-wing posture of her back: her gaze is unrelenting.

The Women

A form of enclosure, seeing without being seen. A space opens around her subtending the distance between us. Light falls into absence, informing consent. She stands opposite the window, wine moistening her mouth. A red enameled nail traces a circumference. The pressure of breath measured against the angled winter sun. His gaze orbits the perimeter of such space as affords entry. She draws silk – roses, mauves, blue – seeming against sight, gazing side-long. Oils diffuse along the blinding white of her upper arm, coloring her. A red poppy, a necklace of amber beads, red dissolving into the vanished light. Bitter savor of tea slips over your palate. Dusk, a grace. In the distance between objects, we fall. A bitter red, a lost color, a neck impossibly long. The brushstroke vanishes at the edge of silence. She refuses to lift her gaze.

Gazing At Plums

Though the reasonable man does not have doubts, the condition of woman is perhaps less certain. A question of where.

A box of pens, a wooden bowl, desk littered in open books: the uncertain truth of propositions.

Light penetrates the shadow of night jade. A hawk rending the black-flecked back of a bear. Can we rely on our senses?

A prescription of dialogue, such talk gets it’s meaning from the correspondence between doubt and longing.

A book of fables, illustrated herbals, Sharazahd’s inventions. The interchangeable nature of service and servitude demands precision. The roots, red and potent as the flowers.

She prepares a tisane of camomille, dried quince flowers. Though it is not a matter of seeing.

An open field, a page of writing. An hypothesis, again and again, confirmed.

Does she have a body? Married to interrogation, her desire predicated on the firmness of flesh, her teeth tearing through it, the sweetness of its juice.

A place she enters into.

Of The Second Girl

A girl, a widow, a surpassing beauty. Variables in an equation of alliance. A golden proportion.

Everything depends on comparison – seven gates or seven planets. Obedient, she accedes to deceit.

Love at first sight.

Ice water flavored with rose and sugar. Strained wine. Incense glows on a brazier.

Of desire’s ten divisions, nine are hers. What he fears.

A second deceit: a rogue bites her cheek. Painting in darkness what she cannot see: how should I determine it?

Naming the forms of obedience. Language supplants love with itself.

Ruby lips, weals of her punishment: another golden mean. What her senses teach her.

It is seen as having depth.

Of the lover, neither moons, anemones, nor pearls. Not even the cedar but a black mirror, a theory of color.

Interned in his own absence, a silence impossible to narrate. Widow, oath, bride. Leaping sting of the quince branch.

Where does her heart leap, now? Trace of his hand marking desire.

At Nightfall

Again a confusion, their voices a white noise against which boundary does not offer consolation. Walking the edge.

Upon whose words does she depend? Or this. Histories, poets, philosophy. The stitches of her needle precise. Even science.

Two vast semi-circles sprawl out from the great river. Villas and gardens, bazaars though she does not venture there.

All parts of the city equidistant from the citadel: discretion requires a wall.

Or she does. Her gaze turns inward. The hospitals and asylums cognates of his menagerie.

Well-acquainted with the claustrophobic, she imagines the shape of the cartouche.

Like Abu Nuwas, she seeks an unadulterated knowledge. And of the other? For old wine set clear water out of mind. All that the book forbids.

A collection of mirrors, epistemology of the gaze. Like rose quartz, manganese, iron. They share a single composition surface.

Perplexity of acronyc delirium.

The Second Girl as a Handsome Youth

She changes the place of things, a doubled mirror.

A tale requiring ten days in which the sister brothers herself, uncanny resemblance. Her gestures become fantastic.

A Barmecid woman marries her. Seen by the light of aloes burned in a cresset lamp, love performs menace.

Fatality of a glance. Couldn’t observation be the exception?

She spurns the dubious obligations of any authority but her own and has the beloved lashed. Both self and other.

In the space of a cup of wine, she adopts the role of caliph, doubling herself again. (Harun hidden in the bow of the lesser boat.)

A sublimated reflection, deceitful, sublime. She interrogates her own impulses.

A second world, its double. His hand becomes a door, a round gong, a chair of ivory in which she reclines.

A hall of mirrors into which beauty, like love, gazes.

She stokes the cresset, feeding narratives like lign-aloes into the fire. A third world in which her gestures become more fantastic still.

A curving blade, a fatal arrow. She has him beaten with palm rods.

Punishments figure as pleasure, extension a guarantee of survival. The gods return as demons.

Confounding spectacle, she endures.

Dying for love.

girls and dolls*

“there was a policing of statements. A control over enunciations as well”
–Michel Foucault

s'il vous plaît," the photographer cooed as Bernard Arnault, the luxury-goods king, and Cher snapped into a huddle. They were backstage at the Dior show to see John Galliano. Everyone, about 200 people, was trying to see Mr. Galliano, who had had the idea of ending his haute couture show of medieval clothes set in Botticelli's garden by coming out dressed as an astronaut.
"Yeah, it was a moment," the designer said with a self-mocking grin.
The haute couture, which is still the "degenerate institution propped by a sycophantic press" that Kennedy Fraser described more than 20 years ago, is in
the last stages of a spaced-out race toward oblivion. Karl Lagerfeld, if he works to the end of his seven-year agreement with the Wertheimer family, which owns Chanel, will be nearing 80. Mr. Galliano will be past 50. And, at 32, the youngest practitioner, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, has the pretension to be a couturier but not the discipline or the honest imagination.
So enjoy! This is a historic moment. You are seeing the last great couturiers, the spiritual descendants of Charles Frederick Worth, make ridiculously expensive clothes, on sets that cost in excess of $1 million, and at a time when
the richest houses, Dior and Chanel, have not only the means to indulge their creative madmen, but also the mental largesse.
Looking across the boxwood-hedged runway at Dior, as 500 or so people were
furiously fanning away the heat, one saw Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of Dior. You thought, "The guy must be having a heart attack." There was hardly one among the 39 surreal-looking outfits that didn't have embroidery, feathers or a foaming train that would halt a small car. Yet like Alain Wertheimer, the chairman of Chanel, who was sitting with Mr. Lagerfeld up in the Chanel studio the other day, Mr. Toledano understands the creative process.
The scale of Mr. Galliano's clothes, which were inspired by the Marcel Carné film "Les Visiteurs du Soir," featuring the French actress Arletty in 1940's interpretations of medieval armor, is in direct proportion to the extremes of contemporary life, from its decadent displays of wealth to religious fanaticism. It is striking that both he and Mr. Lagerfeld drew on medievalism, though at Chanel the allusions were more subtle: a yoke of golden embroidery, say, on a black tunic dress, or a high-collared coat in ecclesiastical scarlet.
Though neither designer is especially interested in politics, Mr. Lagerfeld said the reason both may have chosen the same theme is the extent to which religion, and fear, can undermine rational thought. And certainly
armor is a symbol of protection.
It is rare, in any case, to see
such freedom on the runway. Mr. Galliano said he wanted armorlike sleeves to "morph" into 1940's suits. Among the most original (and wearable) looks were minicoats in dark shaggy layers of fox and yak hair. They seemed to combine the glamour of Hollywood and the raw energy of punk.
Though Mr. Galliano takes an exaggerated approach to fashion, turning layers of green tulle into ambulatory topiary and creating crackled surfaces with foiled fabrics, there is inevitably a new technique being tried. This, too, is couture's purpose. The bubbly ruched train of a blue and white evening dress could have been inspired by the shape of Hefty bags piled at a curb, but the technique may someday produce a hip down jacket.
"Glenda and Elton," purred the soft, cookie-baking-crimp-the-edges-of-your-pastry voice of Martha Stewart. Before the start of the Chanel show, in a specially constructed tent with a revolving platform for the audience, Ms. Stewart took snapshots of the
guests, including Elton John and Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper's Bazaar.
As if aware that Chanel's privileged
clients can lend a musty scent of rosewater to couture, Mr. Lagerfeld seems determined to make the clothes connect with the pace of modern life. In this exceptional show, hemlines were several inches above the knees, with a breezy sense of proportion, as if he imagined all the day looks moving briskly along an urban sidewalk. A fuzzy caterpillar of yarn traced the edges of a trim tweed suit, but on the whole decoration was kept to a minimum. The focus was on the almost sculptural fit of jackets, and the smaller shoulder line of tiny cap-sleeved tunics. To make the body seem even smaller, Mr. Lagerfeld had sleeves built out just slightly in the upper part of the arm and then narrowed toward the wrist.
It was a great illusion.
"It's couture," he said with a huge grin. Well, he loves to say that.
(Page 2 of 2)
And it's surprising that no one has thought to mimic how young women layer jeans under skirts. Mr. Lagerfeld's solution was to send stone-washed and black denim to the custom shoemaker Massaro and have thigh-high boots made with jeweled amber-colored heels. He showed the boots with the exquisitely embroidered and beribboned evening clothes, too.
As the new Balenciaga exhibition here makes clear, couture allows designers to refine and refine an idea. Balenciaga's particular obsession was with sleeves. Jean Paul Gaultier, who on Friday closed the fall couture collections, had a long black coat with an exotic
bird embroidered on one sleeve, its red plumes quivering above the shoulder. Though the collection didn't quite come together, Mr. Gaultier displayed some great Surrealist magic, especially with chiffon dresses sliced into skeletal pieces and a shapely silver-fox coat with deep organza pleats.
Valentino, who received the Legion of Honor on Thursday, and celebrated with a black-tie dinner at his chateau, appealed to the client who has everything — well, maybe not a gorgeous chiffon dress clinging to one shoulder with tiny pearls rushing over the bodice. Microcheck tweeds and sun-ray pleats were the story for day, but the stunners were red-carpet numbers that looked as if the models had been dipped naked into small glittering stones.
The light hand of Christian Lacroix spun a veil of powder blue chiffon over a pearl gray silk taffeta dress, and came up with a short A-line coat in
silver-appliquéd felt with a chartreuse fox collar. Beautiful and minimalist, but it would be nice to see him apply his modernity to more day clothes. Giorgio Armani's trouble is that he has a fixed idea of couture: all taut lines and sweetheart bodices trimmed out like a chocolate box. Dresses with asymmetrical pleating and tumbling organza ruffles were at least proof that he knows how to lighten up.
Mr. Tisci's collection was heavy weather. Staged in a dark room, on a black
lacquered runway, with many black clothes cut with more drama than flair, the collection could easily be mistaken for ready-to-wear. There is no question that Mr. Tisci is talented, but he needs to simmer down and consider that couture's privilege is to take a few ideas — a proportion, a shoulder line — and refine them to perfection.

* Composed by elision from Cathy Horyn’s article “In Paris, Only the Moat was Missing”: New York Times, July 9, 2006.

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