Reed in Istanbul
In the poem I had in mind
one blue-tiled stanza
containing a striped divan
and a single cut tulip
ends at a latticed window
behind whose fretwork
an entire regiment
of red-turbaned tulips
is posted, standing guard
with drawn daggers.
Steam obscured one stanza,
making its marble sweat,
veiling its women's naked
boredom with languor,
their faint mustachios
with clove-scented dew
(dew that dissolves
on the tongue like sugar
but tastes bitter-briny,
indigestible as tears).
A sinuous line of incense
led to an inner courtyard
where someone crouched
over a brass brazier, fanned
wisps of musky smoke
up the bellows of her skirt.
Hearing the click-clack
of my heels on the cobble
she turned to appraise me,
quickly got back to work.
intarsiate poem, poem
of the narrow-necked vase,
the bejeweled mirror,
of pumice and water pipes
and plush labyrinthian
women who glide up
from the foot of the bed,
who hide their emotions
even from the moon--
Lou Reed shanghaied
that poem, he runs
its arched passageways
despotic as a eunuch,
slouches on its pillows
on Transformer's cover,
where, in Bilbao at 17,
listening to "Vicious,"
to "Satellite of Love,"
in a Spanish boy's bed
a year before Franco
finally died, high
on codeine cough syrup
I first saw him, his prick
in the facing photo
a concealed nightstick.
Now, listening to his
roughed-up dead pan
under a domed moon
just up the Bosphorus
from Topkapi's seraglio,
watching some starlings
swoop toward the stage
to flit in the lights,
I remember how it felt,
the blood rush--swoop,
swoop, oh baby, rock,
rock--of being set loose.
* * *
A man takes a walk on the beach below his house,
throws a fluorescent tennis ball into the waves--
his face lighting up as he describes the intricate
simplicities of Japanese building technique,
the temple at Kiyomizu, with its healing water-
fall (and not a single nail)--tries to remember
the name of a book. He can picture the layout
of a page he wants to show us, the photograph
of scaffold, roof beam, and joists, but the title
is iced sake evaporated on the tip of his tongue.
Bending for the ball his dog retrieved from the waves
and dropped at his feet, careful to keep his head
above the bloodline of his heart, he looks up as if
to say "This is absurd," straightens, shakes off
his residue of fear, tosses the ball into the breakers.
Roof beam, tennis ball, book; sake, bloodline, wave.
He would like to go back to Kyoto someday, someday
go back to Greece. But for now, each step of the steep
crooked beach stair scaling the hill back to his house
is a whitecap requiring a surfer's obstinate strength.
In the clear sea of his sun-stricken eyes, on the swell
of his unremitting gaze, an uncertain skiff.
Though I'd let it languish next to my chaise
almost two years, as soon as you died I took up
the Seferis you'd sent me, reading at first
only notes inked in your hand, marked phrases,
studying ruefully the locked diary of words
written out in your fluent-looking Greek:
every dog-ear, the signature of unglued pages,
the smudged binding, your name on the flyleaf,
even the Hellenic Bookservice label at first
talismanic as the sea, the plane tree, the pines.
friend who left for the island of pine-trees
friend who left for the island of plane-trees
friend who left for the open sea
All week I've been searching for my poem,
a handful of lines, how could I lose them?
Could a copy still be folded in thirds
and tucked inside the collected cummings
I snuck into an open box of your books?
"Greek Dancer" I think I called it . . .
did you ever come across it? For years,
when you were alive but more vanished
from my life than now, I let myself regret
only the velvet jacket I left in your pickup.
the life they gave us to live, we lived
From the house you built, and the meadow
where a yellow dog snuffles in tall grass,
you can see your wife and twin tow-headed sons
looking out over the cliffs to the kelp beds
where your ashes were launched from your kayak
and strewn like phosphorus on the pulsing skin
of the sea. When we meet now, in the uncertain
pelagos of dreams, it is and is not as before,
when I could slip a poem like this into a book
and eventually, eventually, you would find it.
for Hank Palmieri
Moldaw is the author of three
books of poetry: The
Lightning Field, winner of the FIELD
Poetry Prize and forthcoming from Oberlin
College Press in 2003, Chalkmarks
on Stone (La Alameda Press, 1998),
and Taken from the River (Alef
Books, 1993), as well as a chapbook,Through
the Window (La Alameda Press, 2001).
A recipient of a Pushcart Prize (2002)
and a National Endowment for the Arts
Creative Writing Fellowship (1994), Moldaw’s
work has been published widely in journals,
including Agni, Conjunctions, The
Drunken Boat, Field, Kenyon Review,
The New Republic, The New Yorker, Paris
Review, Parnassus, Partisan Review, Santa
Fe Poetry Broadside, The Threepenny
Review, and Triquarterly. She
lives in Pojoaque, New Mexico.