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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Paris Exposition 1900

How strange to see them moving
on the other side of
that mirror’s deep wound.
See how this one’s long dead
image gives a staccato bow to the
jittery lens; he tips his hat
while his face displays the bright
sunlight of the esplanade.
How naturally they slip into
this scene of innocence; it almost fits.
That one over there, faceless,
tapping a cane as he strolls away,
and that one, just coming into frame,
tilting her sun hat forward,
yawning in its shadow.
And out beyond the crowd, the
Javanese girls milling between a
native dance display, and the
pavilion of the Bedouin warriors
brandishing their mock swords;
they too had conquered the world.
The strollers pass, full from
visits to the Orient and the dark Zambezi.
And the young men, grown bored
of trips along the moving sidewalk,
loiter in the cool shadows of the
dark tower’s brooding arch.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2013