The Luxury of Integrity

With this living thing alone does god converse,
                    at night through dreams and through omens by day[.]
                                        —Corpus Hermeticum XII:191


One of those hookers with a heart of gold
     once told me to keep my money
     to buy myself a better soul,
     rewarding my penury with
an illusion of home, two flâneurs—more

Rimbaud than Rousseau, solitary walkers—
     who lie together shouldering
     the burden of being alone,
     collar bones sheltering in their
shallow bowls soft kisses like mouths full of

incense collecting the ashes of his
     self-immolating beauty, burned
     forests of thick, raven-tressed nests
     turning and unfolding fragrant
from under the columns of his fallen


arms, stirring from rest to pasture their scorched
     portents in the wings of shadows
     where his chest thrashes his neck, rushed
     rivulets of sweat riding tides
of breaths rising and threading dusks of longed-

for tomorrows across his breast my songs
     of fingers fly over, fresh tears
     running toward his back to warn
     its warmth of what comes next: morning
creeping his body’s crevices will rob

of it this twilit serenity, light
     reminding him when I am gone,
     that I have left nothing but my
     memory, the heavy path of
my glances impervious to the theft


of his identity, I have known him
     and do still, though my true name he
     never will, for robbers bind strong
     men not with cords, but choruses
of words that choke the soul when they wrap tight

around an honest tongue, though not all of
     us covet the luxury of
     integrity—to live by lamp-
     light, to fall from watchtowers, to
die by gunfire, these are fates against which

we are powerless, against which we pressed
     for a litany of seven
     hours, offering our Selves on an
     altar of flesh, a king-sized bed
drenched, appeasing desire as for one night


we defied our god, he who gives truth to
     scholars, he whose cries we silenced
     as we ate food sacrificed to
     idols in anonymity’s
profane temple, all of this and yet his

spirit still moves, god repaying sin not
     with pain, but hope colouring-in
     dollar-signs of veins with dark ink
     pulsing to their root, a man’s heart
I pollute whenever I rise before

him, refusing to abide his final
     kiss before my aching commute—
     whenever I leave them, I take
     from my lovers nothing, save our
conversation, its sacred treasury


of naked words rich with earth-tones and dirt
     we dish as we ditch our clothes, filth
     stitching closed every lip’s chaste
     opening through which an ambush
of inhibition can go, dismissing

its constriction, knowing that in our worst
     whispers are the prayers of saints, that
     the place on his pillow from which
     I lift my head will be one hole
mystery fills, as its pit of questions

grows the plant of our souls, wondering if
     like a thief night thinks of him as
     it runs from sunrise, through dreams and
     through omens, out of cellar doors
and beyond the labyrinth of parking


lots, its darkness laughing as it pulls its
     mirage of gauze from apartment
     blocks, telling no one, except by
     knowing grins, of how I found their
secret source and named each of the four great

rivers of paradise for him—the famed
     shadow that I am, scrubbing from
     the vulgar mouths of mortals all
     possible oracles brazen
gossip falsely forges, as I open

up about love, telling my own story
     as it is, pouring out this flood
     of thoughts flowing ever since, from
     the pen in my hand which never
held his, wondering if god ever fibs.

1Corpus Hermeticum, “Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus: On the mind shared in common, to Tat,” Treatise XII, Verse 19, in Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, with notes and introduction by Brian P. Copenhaver, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; page 47.