David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
A Couple in Pastels

     {from Autumn in the Hothouse}

                                                         for David

                                                         my father

                                                         for Joyce

                                                         my mother

 

                                             1

 

Leon stares like a beached fish

     In the over-hung morning mirror.

The teeth are perfect, from a dish,

          The eyes Martian, queerer.

 

Margie lies perfumed within,

     A lazy tangle on the satin bed,

Honey on a lilac spread.

          She yawns and strokes her chin.

 

Traffic reaches from the street,

     Gretta hissing at the wrens.

Just yesterday was ice and sleet.

          Today is June Sunday's tremens.

 

The stubble shifts from beard

     To blade, filings in the sink.

There is too much time to think,

          And thought is often feared.

 

A Naked Maja stirs and grips

     Her breasts, pads the naked floor,

A subtle sway of milk-pale hips

          Toward the refrigerator door.

 

                                            2

 

The cat stiffens.  The mew

     Is nearly heat.  She is at her dish,

Greedy, licking, cheese and fish.

          Margie's impulse is to chew.

 

At last the three are feeding,

     Eggs, bacon, a habitude of growl

Subdued by social usage.  The towel

          At chin seems nearly breeding.

 

How tired he looks, she muses,

     Peering past her studied fingernails.

She even hates the scent he uses.

          As such it is when feeling fails.

 

And must he pat his lips

     With such delicacy?  At 43

That leisure suit?  The company

          We keep, the way he preens and sips?

 

                                              3

 

Leon takes his buttered toast

     And coffee with a jaundiced air.

Even alone he plays the weary host.

          Little eludes his practiced stare.

 

She slips from the table, feline,

     Blond, into the shower, lush

Breasts, taut belly, the flush

          Of youth on flesh at 29.

 

Gretta hisses on the windowsill,

     Defeated by translucent glass.

Such Siamese lend a touch of class,

          Soften the latest bill.

 

Morning at the Zabor's.  White

     Light through gentle pastel gauze,

Mottled on their fingers, fright,

          Mottled on their kitten's claws.

 

                                               4

 

Leon's song is muted.  He culls

     A sense of purpose from his pain,

The sense of loss that pulls

          Him under to survive, subterranean.

 

The flower child in shabby dress

     That lilted toward his heart

Has woman's contours now.  In part

          The slattern rules the priestess.

 

A scented lady leaves her bath.

     Designer fashion serves her form.

From nudity to aftermath,

          Instead of clothes her body's worn.

 

Beads transmute to gold link

     Chain, a sapphire in the cleavage,

Assorted emeralds, hard to gauge,

          Against the skin they drink.

 

                                               5

 

Today is Monet in the City,

     The bus at half past ten o'clock.

Such types would move Monet to pity,

          Transform his art to sterner stock.

 

"Oh Leon, could you clasp my dress?

     And tidy up before we go.

That colored girl's so slow.

          This place is such an awful mess.

 

I'd turn her in for someone new

     If she weren't so treacherous.

Once a week and then she's through.

          The best she does is iron and dust.

 

The other day I heard her phone

     The lover she parades.  Christ,

You'd think I'M overpriced

          To hear her grieve and moan.

 

Leon, you really shouldn't style

     Your hair.  It looks so plastic.

And then you have that awful smile.

          It looks so pornographic."

 

                                             6

 

"Margie dear, you're acting up.

     You'd think I caused you stress.

Of course, I'll clasp your dress.

          Sit down, I'll even fill your cup.

 

This coffee's freshly perked.

     Enjoy it while it lasts.

You'd think some witch had jerked

          Your string.  That diet casts

 

A bitchy hue on your Gestalt.

     Cheer up and have some pleasure.

Thank God we have the leisure.

          You act as if the world's at fault."

 

Silence.  The smile remains

     Beneath his troubled eyes.

He tabulates her assets, sighs.

          Such glitter burns but seldom maims.

 

                                            7

 

Total female toward the driver,

     Climbing, the supple shift

Of pale chiffon, a honeyed drift

          Of stark vibration—oh yes, alive

 

Or fancied, such bright vision

     Stabs routine with sudden heat,

Leon stalking scented meat,

          Alive to meat's derision.

 

The driver drops his cigarette,

     Fumbles with his change.

He feels a sudden angry sweat

          Only Leon could derange.

 

That such a creep could hold her,

     The thought gave Slim a fit.

Christ, what an awful twit,

          And how he'd like to play it bolder.

 

                                            8

 

"Step to the rear, good lass,

     and WATCH your rear, the shocks

are gone."  Jesus, what a fox.

          The way she struts that perfect class.

 

Does she twitch it just

     For spite, and leave her eyes

Go through me?  I bet he buys

          Her half the Morgan Trust.

 

Upper crust.  I'd show her how

     To turn the trick for certain.

He's more like Liz than Burton.

          I'd milk her like a Guernsey cow.

 

At last our handsome two

     Are seated, gems and udders

Masked beneath a shawl, complacent crew

          Indeed, but Leon shudders.

 

Perhaps the way Slim eyed

     Her breasts, or jerks the bus,

A blue collar Sisyphus,

          Libido drained, his whims denied.

 

                                               9

 

"You've told Elise the time?

     Will she wear her Sunday best?

I hate the way she's often dressed.

          Her hues are out of rhyme."

 

"Relax, Margie.  Take a hit.

     There is no better Bourbon.

And Frigidaire your urging.

          That driver nearly had a fit."

 

"You're such a bore, Leon.

     Perhaps I scraped you off my mom.

Your eyes are vapid, dumb.

          Your smile is ugly, nearly neon."

 

A pastel suburb drifts

     Beyond the window.  Leon uncaps

A silver flask.  Such fluid taps

          The energy when feeling shifts.

 

                                               10

 

The Port Authority is grim,

     A stench of peanuts, faecal slime,

Krishna thumpers steeped in crime,

          The pederast, the lost, the prim.

 

Nuns gathering skirts at refuse,

     A gospel choir asserting faith,

Assorted turns the cosmic lathe

          Employs at dross for baser use.

 

"She must be waiting by the baker,

     Clemens there to hold her hand.

I hope her mother didn't take her.

          That's more than I could stand."

 

"Relax again, Margie dear.

     Enjoy the sights indeed

Profound, the cutest of our breed.

          You act as if they're simply queer.

 

And there she is, the lovely one,

     Old Clemens safe in tow.

He's senile now, slow.

          I should have given him the gun."

 

 

                                              11

 

A tear from Martian eyes

     Ensues, moist embrace and kisses.

Elise is seventeen and hisses

          Sentiment tried on for size.

 

The ancient servant hefts

     Her FM radio.  He manages a grin.

Leon strokes his daughter's chin.

          Through stone some feeling sifts.

 

The girl is dark complected,

      Hazel eyes consumed by blusher.

Her hesitance is easily detected

          To warm to Margie, brittle, lusher.

 

She wears her ragged denim,

     Blouse and jacket, black felt clogs.

The aviator frames emotion fogs.

          The smile is lilting, tinged with venom.

 

                                             12

 

Clemens nods, scuttles on his course.

     No one senses his departure.

The moment strains when etiquette is rupture

          And lassitude returns in force.

 

"And how's your mother, bless her soul,

     And Uncle Joseph, Grandpa Grims?

I see you're smoking Silva Thins."

          In time there comes the lull.

 

Silence to the waiting cab,

     Silence into traffic screaming past.

The fear is that such fear will last.

          Margie quickens, starts to blab.

 

Soliloquy of sculpture, oil,

     Cadence of Degas, Gauguin.

The latter's histrionics fairly boil.

          Little is depicted but her strain.

 

                                             13

 

The day is warm indeed, a certain pull.

     They leave the taxi for the sun-worn

Steps.  The latter burn,

          Blond glitter, light on Leon's skull.

 

The further steps extend within,

     Cool now, muted like a day

In shadow.  Leon oversees their progress with a grin,

          The calm ascent toward Claude Monet.

 

"Elise, your father's often ill.

     His week is such a hectic pace.

These moments in your presence trace

          A greater joy than pain can kill."

 

The girl is sullen, lost in thought,

     Ignores the artifacts they pass,

Sees little but the moment caught

          Like artifacts in rigid glass.

 

Perhaps she senses contradiction,

     That beauty can be trapped for hire.

The commonplace to her seems higher

          Than any captive benediction.

 

                                             14

 

She catches moment in the throng,

     A lilt of lovers' gesture, dress.

The child that clings to sterner song

          Is retrograde, served simply to oppress.

 

And yet they enter pastel blur,

     Shimmer of a thousand captive hues,

Monet at last, the elder child in use,

          Transfixed.  Vernon, the Seine in rapture.

 

The child sees objects, mass and form,

     A muted voice against the crowd.

There are no cameras allowed,

          The total instant free and free to burn.

 

The little else that Leon sees is fleet,

     Harmony controlled by random color,

A lesser harmony of price and seller,

          Ten billion in the space of twenty feet.

 

Margie, observed, is found to fix,

     A surge of warmth and childish awe,

To see as child the child that Monet saw.

          Warm sympathy of tone on such souls sticks.

 

                                              15

 

A blur of haystacks melting into voice,

     Cadmium of statement, ochre, rust.

Giverny shouts in flecks of dust.

          The cry at sunset leaves small choice

 

But tears for color's final dance

     Like Buddhist temples, naked soul,

Yet nothing here is left to chance.

          Each fragile fleck speaks to the whole.

 

And on to poplars, lilac, tall,

     From silhouette to likeness cast below,

Erupting orange, palest green, small

          Bent for sadness in this braver show.

 

The wash of morning on the Seine,

     A muted shading, emeralds to blues,

Haze of pink, unspoken hues

          That speak for textures, even strain.

 

Beyond statement, beyond footbridge,

     Garden path, a carnival that runs toward blood,              

                                                                                                              

Mad smears of discord at the edge

          Relent toward water lilies, God.

 

                                               16

 

Boredom on the sun-blond steps.

     They watch a clever pantomime.

Leon, furtive, checks the time.

          Such moments given soon elapse.

 

"I thought we'd taxi to the Village,

     Get off this side to have a look.

We've had enough to fill a book."

          Margie insists she will not budge.

 

"But Margie dear, we can't stay forever.

     There's sight to see beyond just art.

Consider poor Elise in part.

          She's tickled by a different feather."

 

The latter's radio is booming,

     Cacophony of Lynyrd Skynyrd's pain,

 

A raw emotive shudder at their patient grooming,

          Confronting Leon's placid brain.

 

                                             17

 

"Well if we must let's make it Spartan.

     We'll take the bus and watch the scene

More leisurely, nothing that obscene,

          I hope.  I beg your pardon?"

 

"Oh God, as if I care what Dad's about.

     The both of you'll go your way

And call it mine no matter what I say,

          Or shout.

 

The whole thing's always your decision.

     You call the shots.  They're so damned chic.

I'm tired of grown-up supervision.

          At seventeen you're up a creek.

 

All right.  Maybe something from a shop,

     Something small, nothing at all

Fancy.  I'll pacify with earrings for the fall,

          A belt, God knows.  Just stop!"

 

                                             18

 

At Eighth they disembark,

     A sorry trio in a restive crowd,

Seeking to recapture what Monet allowed

          In antique shops aimed toward the park.

 

Ahead the arch is looming,

     A muted gray above the asphalt.

Elise's FM RADIO could take some grooming,

          Leon thinks, quailing from its brave assault.

 

Safe enough, here among the pavement's

     Surge of strangers, lax or hurried.

In such entombment Claude Monet is buried.

          Leon senses, strives, relents.

 

A haze of sky infects the light.

     Strangers ache in lilac tones.

A strident levity takes flight

          Toward spill of lilac on the paving stones.

 

                                             19

 

"Oh God, Daddy, he's dead!"

     Leon—"Don't stop.  Don't look, Elise."

Margie—"As if that makes it cease?

          Oh God, the blood.  His head!"

 

"He's dead, Daddy.  He's dead, he's dead!"

     Leon—"For God's sake, keep on walking."

Margie—"Listen to the expert talking."

          Leon—"Well what would you have said?

 

These things happen.  Better not to look.

     We'll check out something nice.

That's just a slice, I'd say . . . a slice

          Of life.  Let's not get shook."

 

Margie—"I'd say a slice of death."

     They've hurried on for half a block,

Pausing to catch their breath.

          It's painful just to talk.

 

Elise—"It's all your fault.  It's all your

     Fault.  You made me see that awful thing.

How should I react? . . . just cling?"

          She weeps against her father's shoulder.

 

                                               20

 

Beyond the Square they tempt

     Her at a shop.  She barely sees

The glitter in the window.  Her tears have ceased,

          But still she sulks.  They stop, attempt

 

Another, perhaps a hand-wrought vase,

     An atomizer, something Javanese.

The girl is hard to please.

          From store to store they chase.

 

"Are you hungry?  How about something Greek?"

     Leon's tone is strident, whines.

Elise shows signs

          Of interest.  Her appetite is seldom weak.

 


                         

"We'll stop in here, I've read reviews.

      They say the lamb is succulent."

Elise enters, truculent.

              But hungry.  The injured often have to choose.

 

 

                                               21

 

Souvlaki, feta cheese,

     Mousaka, black olives, resin

Flavored wine, a Heineken for Elise—

          To alcohol she's no distant cousin.

 

A second liter for the two adults.

     Their conversation slurs,

Tracks sideways toward Elise's mother's faults.

          The edge of laughter blurs.

 

The house she kept, what it cost

     Poor Leon to maintain.

And now each year across

          From Central Park, thirty grand for certain.

 

The private schools, the maid,

     Clemens, the Benz—

It hardly made much sense.

          A lesser man would feel betrayed.

 

But why is she so long in the john?

     Leon wonders between sips.  He grins,

Studies his glass.  They say it thins

          The . . . "Margie, where's my daughter gone?"

 

                                               22

 

No one in the restroom but a fat

     Sullen slut.  Elise gone.

As Leon paid the bill, that awful fact

          Asserted.  His voice brittle, face wan,

 

Contemplating childhood on such streets.

     Abducted?  Anything could

Happen in this town.  Should

          He call her mother?  Outside, sheets

 

Of rain came sudden.  They braved

     The cloudburst,

Up and down Bleeker, Thompson, depraved

          MacDougal.  Leon cursed

 

The weather, the human refuse

     Still scattered in the gutters, on the walks.

Pained, still searching, always for Elise.

          To think he thought that money talks.

 

                                             23

 

Margie—"Call Susan.  Call her.

     You have to.  It's getting late.

Better yet, just talk to the butler.

          Let Clemens set it straight."

 

Leon—"You think she's home?

     And what if she isn't?  What if she's . . . ?

I hate to guess.  Don't squeeze

          My arm.  All right, I'll phone."

 

They enter a corner bar,

     Leon fumbling change.

Their smiles arrange

          In concert.  Leon dials, composed for caviar.

 

"Yes?  Yes?  Yes?  She's there?

     All right.  All right.

Not tonight?  All right.  She gave us quite a scare.

          All right, I understand.  Quite."

 

                                            24

 

The follow-up is kissing,

     Gin, against the emerald mirror.

Release from fear draws them nearer.

          So silly not to've seen her radio was missing.

 

The follow-up again is gin,

     Kissing, and gin again and kissing.

The flower child is in her skin,

          The stodgy BROKER almost missing.

 

"We'll take a cab, Margie.  Why pinch

     Pennies?  A taxi all the way to Woodcliff Lake.

I've had enough today.  I thought I'd break

          There for a moment.  Just another inch

 

And Christ, where's my marbles?  She

     Was mad.  God, was she mad,

Old Susan.  She has me up a tree,

          That woman.  At my age, it's sad."

 

They flag a yellow cab across the street.

     The fare is double, then the tip.

They've given pain the slip.

          And settle in the back to get some sleep.

 

                                            25

 

Brilliant in the early night,

     Manhattan, slate sky and neon,

Faceless buildings, Leon

          Settled back against her, tight.

 

Bright light, florescent signs

     Through the canyons, the silhouettes

Of power thrust high against regrets,

          Futility, defeat.  A billion bold designs.

 

And on to Amsterdam, cars snaking

     Past the road-lamps, kaleidoscope

Of lancing light nearly breaking

          Leon's heart, nuzzled into Margie's throat.

 

The Hudson Parkway fleet

     Toward the western shore

Of that grim island.  Such perfumed radiance, more

          Than he could bear or cheat.

 

And then the Bridge, hung there

     Above the river, arching through the quiet,

Raw conquest on its concrete pinions,

          Mass, ambition, grace, seemingly in flight.

 

                                               26

 

"Are you asleep?  Are you sleeping, dear?

     We're here.

I'm sorry that I have to wake you.

          This day's been enough to break you.

 

Are you sleeping?  Wake up, my pretty one.

     The night will soon be done.

Come.  Wake up.  That's a girl.  You seem

          Like a goddess, lost in dream."

 

"What time is it?  Oh Leon, we're home."

     The softest guttural moan

Purrs from her throat.  Her yawn is such

          That only Raphael could touch.

 

"Leon, we're home again."

     She doesn't even mind his grin.

"You're often thoughtful, kind.

          I've often said you were a find."

 

Past the doorman with their pass,

     Up seven flights, climbing noiseless, rapt.

No comment would be apt.

          They sense that silence speaks at last.

 

                                               27

 

"Leon, honey, should I take a shower?

     Gretta must be fed.

I'd rather go to bed.

          Don't look so sour.

 

I know what you want.  I'm in the mood.

     Perhaps a little sweat

Will make it interesting.  Not yet.

          I'll feed the kitten.  Your eyes are lewd,

 

You know that?  I haven't seen

     That look in seven years.

Leon, you're blushing.  Your ears

          Are flushing, nearly crimson.

 

Could I say I love you?  I love you.

     Would you believe it?

Just let's leave it

          At that.  I think I do."

 

                                               28

 

Leon lies in muted light,

     The willing victim

Of a thousand forms.  They are dark on bright,

          Pastel and lilting.  Leon burns,

 

Aches, waiting, a languor

     Of anticipation,

Feels rush of heat on lilac satin,

          Melts into longing.  She is stranger,

 

Face in a crowd,

     A purity that only grief allows,

Honey hair and flesh.  He vows

          To hold her if permitted.

 

But holding is to yield.

     Perhaps he knows that at last.

An aching die is cast,

          A honey sweetness only she can wield.

 

                                            29

 

He wants to take his time,

     Melting, melting into rhyme,

That tactile flesh and texture,

          Melting, melting into rapture.

 

The fantasy is greater than the fact.

     He is held to the act.

She whimpers in her need.

          He spills his seed.

 

And she is hungry, sighing,

     Empty now, crying.

He strokes the honey breasts.

          The sullen time arrests.

 

They lie apart on satin.

     She faces from his strain.

And yet she loves him,

          Inexplicably, even now loves him.

 

Perhaps that's the hardest part.

     It was that way from the start,

His brave glitter, protecting her forever.

          She is calm now, calmer.

 

                                            30

 

"Leon, you're going to have

     To learn to sleep without the light.

I've had it for the night.

          I'm simply tired.  Behave

 

Yourself, honey.  No nonsense.

     No, I'll close the door.

Your fears are such a bore.

          Take a Valium if you're tense."

 

She tries not to kiss him,

     Slips to the corridor.

"Your fears are such a bore."

          And yet she'd miss him

 

Horribly.  The ache would last.

     All her body in the corridor.

HIS FEARS ARE SUCH A BORE.

          That last thin ray to cast

 

On Leon's face, that sight

     Is more than she can bear, erase,

That last awful trace.

                 Thins.

            Thins.

      Thins.

Thins.

 

 

                                           "Good night."

 

                                               1981