Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SELF-PORTRAIT: LILITH, EVE, by CONSTANCE MERRITT

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SELF-PORTRAIT: LILITH, EVE, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: The austere angels dozing at their posts
Subject(s): Lilith

The austere angels dozing at their posts,
The flaming sword floats between us like
A bridal veil stirred by breath or wind,
Utterly transparent and vulnerable
To tears at slightest touch. So how explain
This chronic failure of eyes, of hands, to meet?
Those who come after will say it was
He who hulked between us like a wall
Of rock dividing countries, estranging
Sea from land. Will say that I abandoned
You to a life I would not stand. Or, I
Supplanted you in the garden with the man.

Not in the slightest do we grudge them
The comfort of such myths, neither can we
Forget what we have known:
An orange presence in a circle of stones.
How it seemed to leap inside us as we stroked

The length of his unfurled body over
And over with our tongue. How live things seemed
To clench and ripple just beneath his skin.
How his body was a flask full of brightness
Split with little provocation.
How easily stopped his breath; how fragile his bone.
How we could not tell his heartbeat from our own.

Some mornings the ground was strewn with flowers torn
From their stalks by wind; the world was quiet then.
No, too ablaze with sound. What happened then?
Nothing. And after that? Nothing. There is
No story here. Bending above his body,
Tending its delicate milkweed flower,
We trembled with pleasure to hold such power
Over him. For me there was no pleasure,
And I was still and very much afraid.
Little by little you began to leave
The garden? Yes, as more and more you stayed.
Nothing clean or simple about that split.

And it's still ongoing. Too soon to sort it out.
One good eye, one breast, two hands, a single tongue
Between us - how we wrestle over words,
Strain to wring some blessing from the silence,
Deliverance from violence, its fear, its lure.
The tyranny of names: night day,
Sable and alabaster, flint shale,
Steel and lace. Who among us can afford
To speak the language - any language - rightly?
As if it weren't enough to bear one heart
Eternally divided in its chambers.

We stand close enough to touch. We do
Not touch. Between us burns a sword of fire,
A rusted turnstile glinting in the sun.

Copyright Constance Merritt.
Prairie Schooner is a literary quarterly published since 1927 which
publishes original stories, poetry, essays, and reviews. Regularly cited in the
prize journals, the magazine is considered one of the most prestigious of the
campus-based literary journals.

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