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 its 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 shell 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,
shell 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
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