Wages of Sin, we're told to read Fleurs du Mal as, as
this pasteboard Hamlet (fitted in his slot, shades of Davy's gray)
impersonates a voice by streaming eyes and streaming hair, this
dagger hung from the flies by twenty-pound monofilament
and from another play our excuse to see ourselves
uttering tirades in the French style, focusing
our eyes on what's between us till his speech as background noise
collapses with his body to the velvet bedsheet hangings and
what we see and hear translates to our quotidian.
A man comes by to sell Eskimo art books rejected
by the shop I used to work at, proffering them like crusts.
We need a skull bookend on which drooling Cupid squats,
blowing mucus bubbles, incapable of refined speech, the
skull (black with purple and green fissures)'s orbits dead black
as in papier-maché, as in Hamlet, "And smelt so? puh!"
Inside the skull, perhaps visible through a socket, a set design
by Robert Edmond Jones, modello with the prince in wax
who going down a ramp has entered a pool of darkness, hence
invisible except for a gloomy glow from the white skull he carries,
the size of a matched pearl, meant to be his talisman
at which he employs direct address. (Enter Hamlet. To him, Skull.
The props are resonant rather than conceptual,
rather what a child might be said to dream badly.)
The second quarto gives the reading "And smelt so pah."
The odor clings to his fingers like Come Hither Oil clove.
Among the indecent shadows it's argued Hamlet belongs, and us
with vampires lovely to look at who, punctured, exude pus
and why the devil not? Jacob said today he owned a book
on scars that started describing them lovingly in verse
each delectable to the medical author as some go into rapture
over a Bright's Diseased kidney's exemplarity.
We suffer from Yorick's Disease. It affects mostly the head.
The fool in Lear prophesies a prophecy of Merlin's we
think on when we write the word "proleptic" with intent
or find amid a monosyllabic line "pterodactyl"
the vowels stretching to cover consonants, their integument.
Scott bends paper (one side brown, one side green) for endpapers
to bind a Charles Lamb in, wants an engraved lamb for a label.
Darwin used anything, broken panes, to cover mustard pots with things
growing in, the bean's double leaf innocent just out of soil, cirripedes
in brine -- he'll have had slides with clear depressions ground in -- retirement
directed by intelligence. Wordsworth survived his daughter's death just a few years,
friend enough to Davy he'd ask him to fix his punctuation. Poets in both countries
started doing journal entries, on this day I found this flower on the side of this hill
Lucas traces back to Lamb's particularity, a cloudiness left on the slides from
rotting barnacles and salt. Today it rains bouquets, a letter with a fellowship
check for me after painting words on the bookshop window, day-glo orange
including the word "insipid," at Scott's request. People, he says, laugh at it.
That prose, Roast Pig and so on, Mrs. Battle on Whist, once found everywhere
was likely his response to tabloid prose, loathed by Baudelaire (glooming into
absinthe, celadon or peridot), his pythoness a salt-and-pepper Sèvres medusa.
Copyright Gerald Burns 1995-1997