That summer, she had a student who was obsessed with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard, she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade is essential to bread . He copied this down, but he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern. When he first arrived, he did not know enough English to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color. Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal. After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.
Late American Aubade
Man in a chicken suit, you’re the only one today
not selling beauty: 5th Avenue star-struck with Christmas,
three-story diamonds and flocks of ballerinas pirouetting
clockworking gears as if the Industrial Revolution
were a life-sized music box of desires and we’ve just kept
on winding. If. And Wish Upon. And shopping bag. And you
with your wind-ruffled feathers and flyers, pleading
for our primitive hungers. That inelegant grease spot
and crunch to remind us. The mannequins don’t
even have bones. I’ll never have a purse nice enough
to hold a wallet worth the money to buy the purse
at Barney’s. And what does it matter? There are drumsticks.
I’m a vegetarian. You are no masked creature worth hugging
for a picture. No Minnie. No marble nymph of Beauty
in pigeon net outside the library: old yet ever new eternal voice
and inward word. As if we hear it clear in the gizzard:
Beauty is God and love made real. You will be this beautiful
if. You are the rock in the crowd-raked garden of traffic,
just past the corner of jaguar-made-of-dazzle and flapper
reading Shakespeare bound in bardic sparkles. Your yellow,
a scant flag to claim us: ordinary strange as holy chickens
in a gilded cage in Spain. Their ancestors, heralds
of a miracle. A huge mechanical owl recites Madonna
in a window Baz Luhrmann designed since February.
It takes all year for a miracle with this many moving parts.
All of us in a rush to wait for the catastrophe of personality
to seem beautiful again. As if this is the best we can hope for:
seeming to ourselves—like panhandlers dressed as Buddhist
monks the real monks are protesting. Asked for her secret,
the model for Beauty said, The dimples on my back
have been more valuable to me than war bonds. Asked for proof,
one orange-robed woman said, I can’t tell you where, but I do
have a temple. Beaked promise of later lunch, catastrophe
of unbeautiful feather, how can we eat the real you
that you are not? Which came first? The shell to hatch
desire, or desire? Which skin holds my glittering temple?