03 June 2009

James L. White

[from James L. White's The Salt Ecstasies, Graywolf, 1982]

The Clay Dancer [excerpt]


The man in leather is finally at your bed.
He strips down to your mother
who wanders through your cold boyhood house
giving out blankets to empty rooms.

A wheel in you forgets to breathe,
and you are dead,
and you know you are dead.


Embalmer's report:
He looked like corroded alabaster on the worktable.
His old body, the cracked desert roads, older
than the courthouse square, older than the farmers
spitting their phlegm-filled days,
older than the dirty magazines in the dirty shops
in the dirty cities he so revered.

His open arteries discharged two white colts.
His childless loins repaid
the turquoise, the amber and agate.

His yellowed body finished with the flutes,
finished with the mycins of regret,
finished with the vaporizers and failures,
canceled the bromides and small dreams.
But his eyes wouldn't film
or close, saw further than they should.
Only the two colts remained,
their eyes toward still water,
the blue grass and bean blossom.


What goes into heaven with you
so perfectly prepared on the pillow
like a dead satyr
Lights from the remaining colts
or the cold cafes of November
near your turquoise hands?
The faceless loins?
The rotted coyotes?
The aged owls?
Agate temple?
Corn fire?


You go without streets, songs, or hair.


Here at the Del Rio, honey
your shaken steps are voided.
An anonymous patron has picked up your tab.
Your room's off the veranda.
It's quiet here except for weekends
when Reba brings the girls down for the sailors.

You look quite young in your famous blue button-down.
A sax and piano begin the waltz.
Sweet Chocolate sends you your first drink.
The neon lights up tit-pink:
     and the night
     and the night
     and the night!

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