Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

He wants to take leave among strangers
     passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.


I went to love’s maker, forsaking
his creations he offered me, taking
from his workshop more than I
could afford, and I lingered thirsty
beneath his glance, hungered for a
word, licking those tears as if
his eyes were store windows and
not closed, and my heart was
a beggar asking for silence with
an open mouth, my breath throwing
stones, my throat martyred raw by
a whore’s tongue wearing thin the
threadbare whispers of a virgin’s first
song, a hymn or a hum
in return for my soul, breaking
even we shattered in secret, evening
after evening, every rule we ignored,
smashing with our clothes still on
until this tailor, without a thimble,
filled with silk this old wineskin
his talent pricked, spilling into me,
as though he were a hornet
stinging an orchid, a heresy of


nectar sweetening my vinegar we both
knew no one other than my
next lover would have the audacity,
the pitiless honour, to collect, poisonous
as unwashed leather too filthied from
centuries of anonymous sweat and foul-weathered
mornings-after, too oversexed, to gather and
hold tightly together these gnostic texts,
this heterodox flesh of mine a
burned library in whose ruined basement
are buried another’s anger and curse
tablets, a body busier than any
bee, my lechery the talk of
legend, the bane of towns, provinces,
and empires, the gossip of every
rotting grape shaking the vines of
the righteous as if they were
god’s fingers ready to snap, or
be uprooted by living without apology
my loudest truth, or telephone wires,
faint with sizzling sinners honour by
throwing over them sneakers tied together
in case they get lost on


their fall from heaven, I have
known, represent, and am this unbridled
passion, the flame of my hair
a signifier of every man’s desire,
alight, I invite them to follow
after me as I wander alleys
of thorn and briar, twisting my
way back to him as I
aspire toward no garden, to go
no further than the pursuit of
this pleasure, to get no higher
than to reign eternal among those
immortals he made a little lower
than the angels, to be laid
forever by bedfellows who never grow
tired or old, whose homes are
condos with faucets of gold and
walls of mirrors looking out on
the constellations named for them, to
want for nothing but company I
suffer poverty in the midst of
plenty, it is not this luxury
but its emptiness which undoes me.

1Anne Sexton, “The Ambition Bird”, [Stanza 13, Lines 31–32], from “[Part] I. Thirty Poems” of “The Book of Folly (1972)” in The Complete Poems: With a foreword by Maxine Kumin, published at Boston by Mariner Books in 1999; page 300.