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HERMAPHRODITES AT THE VILLA BORGHESE

I. 1969: The Girl Gazes at the Water Nymph and her Love

As a girl who lived to drift nude

in water, I found you on a tinted

ceiling in the Villa Borghese,

your story told in ovals.

 

But it’s the lonely pond-nymph

I noticed most. I strained up

at her crouching in the ferns,

the girl who pursued

and would ruin you,

who traded her painted quiver

for that glimpse of you

 

as I might have done for her, tempted

as I was by pink-blushed quartz

at the heart of unblemished pools.

The way she took to water, lifted

off her dress, sifted a boxwood comb

through her curls. Her naked purpose plain.

 

There, she is touching your arm; you

are shying away. You are cupping

your breast, as she would have you

do to hers, the secret swell of it, as if

to protect it from what is yet to be clear.

 

Only I know how this story unfurls,

how she’ll plunge in after you. You'll twist

and gasp, sand choking down your throat,

and before you can jet your mouth above

the green ripples and breathe,

she’ll twine around you, pierce

and shackle you, her salamander-

muscles writhing you away

from the paradise all benighted

parents promise: two clasped

in certainty as one.

  

II. 1995: The Woman Regards the Sleeping Hermaphrodite

The ceiling has yellowed a shade

more cloudy than the dress I brought

six thousand miles to match. I take

my glasses from a leather pack.

And when we enter (my thoughtful

husband and his would-be nymph),

I do not look up, but draw you

by the waist to the creature

I have spied sleeping

in a  corner half-lit.

 

It is resting on its questionable breast,

hair curled back, tilted up its groin,

gentle bicep a hillock over the lips,

drape framing those exposed untraveled

globes, the Y open like petals toward

the spine, even the pads of the feet

ambiguous.

 

You raise your wrist as if to reach

the soft twists of its chiseled vertebrae,

and the truth of so many more than

twenty-six years appears as a membrane

radiant with the glassiness of water

at the refracted surface, the secret

 

urge I harbor to swim into your skin,

coast down arteries, dive

into veins, float on the waves

of your voice, scull up

that pelvic arch to the tip.

 

copyright 1999, Joy Passanante