Charles and Jeanne

Molten of your loins,
your half-caste Venus of a thousand poems
on a delicate cushion,
rubbed with wine, her old perfume.
They said you loved her most,
mistress of mistresses.

She’s not much to a modern eye,
face of pock-marked eyelids,
cleft lip, spine ravaged by
undiscovered disease,
and scars that trace
the progress of her soul into hell.

She’s doomed,
but you’re doomed too,
twenty seven would be a good age to die
to syphilis, or opiates, or poetry,
lives burning from the rafters
of a choleric slum.

Waifs of life, extinguishing yourselves
in fast and terrible Parisian quarters,
in the doorways, in the dram shops,
under the lamps burning whale fat,

dripping with the lyricism
of the copulating masses,
you could admire, you could despise.

You embraced your exterminating century,
the brief lungs,
you burned for her broken body,
utterly entombed in her
infinite malaise.

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