“Might he not be, in fact, a parody?” —Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
Here like a man in traction I lie sprawling
with one foot propped up on a blood-red sofa.
My heel imprints the arm. A tasseled loafer
hangs from my toetips on the verge of falling.
A warm draft fills the room. The tassel stirs.
I watch its quiet writhing with dispassion.
Outside the clouds drift in and out of fashion.
My lover’s flown away. The sofa’s hers.
My nails are nubs, worn by compulsive buffing
amid perpetual dreams of her beside me
stroking my brow, or roughhousing astride me
until the cushions burst with horsehair stuffing.
Stains in the armpits of my silk pajamas
expand, expand … I’m everything I’ve dreaded:
one long quotation awkwardly embedded,
gripped in the clawed tongs of inverted commas
from my first jabbering to my last faint terror.
How many of me can the copier copy
before the ink runs low, the job grows sloppy,
even the hope of some unusual error
diminishes to blankness? … Heirloom portraits
gloat from the far wall, whispering: To live
is to be painfully derivative.
Why pout about it? Were you hoping your traits
would turn out to be more than ours restored?
That they were just so many “self-made riches”?
A horsehair worms into my shirt and itches.
I scratch. My nail-nubs bleed. I am not bored:
her ghostly image lingers, still engrossing.
In her dark eyes I was original once—
at least, I felt a twinge of renaissance...
Till I collapsed into this mode of posing,
arranged my life and limbs in this grand flop.
I sweat, I itch … How long will one pose hold
before the body gives up, or grows old?
The tassel stirs. The loafer does not drop.