Eros, Eros, Eros

by Intern Flaunt

Once upon a time people made art like this:

 "Earth Waiting" by Eric Gill, wood engraving on paper (1926)

"Earth Waiting" by Eric Gill, wood engraving on paper (1926)

without irony. Who does this now? Few. And we, I think, are the poorer for it. Once upon a time, roughly two thousand years ago in a village in India, an anonymous soul composed this little poem in Prakrit, an extinct peasant dialect of Sanskrit:

From the scent of her
he knew she had bathed
in the river, with the help
of rose-apple branches.

(tr. by David Ray)

     Who writes such poems now? And who among us -- in our screened, aseptic, indoorsy lives -- still knows such red-blooded, en-plein-air delights?

     Once upon a time, Sappho, Mirabai, and Denise Levertov. Where are such abashlessly erotic female poets now? Levertov, a greatly various and greatly hallowing poet few seem to read anymore (because she bucked against the fashionable gnomic style of modern poetry and therefore -- because of her staunch lucidity -- doesn't quite lend herself to the serpentine dissimulation of today's graduate schools?) wrote this all-but-unknown poem I discovered in a festschrift dedicated to Kenneth Rexroth:

To Eros

Eros, O Eros, hail
thy palate, god who knows
good pasta,
good bread,
good Brie.

          The flesh
is delicate, we must nourish it:
desire hungers
for wine, for clear plain water,
good strong coffee,
as well as for hard cock and
throbbing clitoris and the
glide and thrust of
sentence and paragraph in and up to the
last sweet sigh of a
chapter's ending. The beauty
of freckled squid, flowers of the sea
fresh off the boat, graces
thy altar, Eros, which is in
our eyes. And our lips
the blood of berries
before we kiss, before we
stumble to bed. Our bed
must be, in thy service, earth --
as the strawberry bed
is earth, a ground
for miracles.

     What a religion of a poem! A poem that knows the difference between sex and Eros, between pornography and reverence, between Trump/Weinstein/Cosby and Sappho of Lesbos. ("Our bed/ must be, in thy service, earth" might be a credo to live by.)

     What's next for us literarily? Perhaps it's to refuse the smarminess and violence of machismo without downplaying the gifts of the body. Perhaps it's to work towards the world the poet Odysseas Eltyis memorably conjures here: "If a separate Paradise exists for each of us, mine must be irreparably planted with trees of words which the wind silvers like poplars, by people who see their confiscated justice given back, and by birds that even in the midst of the truth of death insist on singing in Greek and saying, eros, eros, eros."

     In the spirit of Kenneth Rexroth and his great "The Love Poems of Marichiko" (which if you don't know, please hunt down) and The Song of Songs (the greatest work of literature, especially when translated by Ariel and Chana Bloch?), I wrote this suite of poems, written from the perspective of a woman:    

THE TALL ORCHARD GRASSES

poems to her beloved

I

so much of the day is screens
driving beside the ocean
instead of being in it
I prefer elk kelp sea glass
yawning my legs open before you

II

the orchard today is
sugaring apples
dying poppies
and wren song
my body plaints for you
eating lunch in our empty house
I remember sunflashes
through the oaks
your sweating arms
and vulnerable face

III

yesterday it rained so hard
the water pushed the creek’s boulders
down towards the ocean
I woke in the dark to echoing
muttering tectonic sounds
my senses wide and quivering
and then wondered
wondered almost to hurt
how many miles
over how many epochs
those great rocks
had already travelled

IV

the loquats are ripening
the wrens are nesting
the jasmine is blowing
and you are not here
my lust steeps in me

V

around you
I feel of this earth again

a poplar giving voice

the red umber
of avocado honey
gleaming in a jar

I know my own power around you

I walk through the market like a mob of lions

and later you worship me

you tell me this shamelessly you say

I worship you

and smell me and taste me
and this only makes me
stronger and you
more lovely  

VI

it is such a mild sweet-smelling night
I have the desire
to lay myself down
in the tall orchard grasses
lay myself down
and surrender
let my body be my body
let my mind list where it will
but I’m too scared (my thoughts? the coyotes?
the unmeaning stars?) and go inside
and open my stupid book
and fall asleep without finishing a page

VII

two robins at the birdbath
they wade into the clear bright
palm of water
and drink

I think of you wading likewise
and drinking
from me

VIII

the male wren
mistaking his reflection
for competition
pecks hideously
at the windowpane
until I hang a sheet there
so nothing will he see
but then I miss him
miss his insistent foolhardy manfulness
his desire to slay any suitor
however phantom however frail

IX

when you are not here
I feel all my energy rise to my head
and my head like a balloon
uplifting and veering
floating me away
come here and crush me
crush me with arms and stomach
and need and want

X

after the storm
the fronds of the banana
are shredded
shredded sorry and limp
I begrudge them this
begrudge them their spentness
their exhaustion their ravishment

XI

where do they come from
the slowly moving
voluptuously turning strands
of spider web
drifting over the orchard

sitting on the porch
I see them pearl sometimes in the sun

I heard not so long ago they can travel
with their creatures riding them
as far as the islands
over the sea

XII

this morning when I woke I remembered
the sea lions croaking up the canyon
you napping in the amber
of the oak-saddened bedroom
the frightening tenderness I felt
near your body’s quiet

and that one hour later on
my voice above you

ragged with its pleasure


Teddy Macker is the author of the collection of poetry, “This World” (White Cloud Press, 2015). His poetry and fiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in the Antioch Review, New Letters, Orion, The Massachusetts Review, The Sun, and Tin House. Among his honors is the Reginald S. Tickner Creative Writing Fellowship of the Gilman School in Baltimore. A lecturer in creative writing at UC Santa Barbara, he lives with his wife and daughters on a small farm in the foothills of Carpinteria, California.