Capriccio to Djuna

 

Michael O'Donoghue

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 47 in May, 1967, this poem appeared in Issue 100 in 1998 after being selected for publication in the retrospective volume Evergreen Review Reader 1967-1973.

 
The thing I remember best,
Perhaps her most striking feature,
Is that she had
Mirrors
Under each armpit.
You could see them when she surrendered.

Dr. Ré foretold the past;
Claimed the future would not last.
Black queen
Falls
On black queen
When another dying lesbian
Opens out of town.

Fly the Transylvanian flag
Upside-down
For the era that passed
When consumption
Became
Tuberculosis;
When St. Petersburg
Became
Leningrad

Dr. Ré,
Lying nude on the chaise,
Her breasts covered with ferns,
Was wont to say:
"It was this way once;
It will never be this way again..."
She had a kind of quiet dignity.

Reflecting on her armpits,
I can still recall the Morro Castle
Silently,
Majestically,
Descending into the Atlantic:
The black waters bubbling madly
Like champagne.

I can still recall the orchestra
Trapped below the decks
Playing Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave,"
While dancing couples
Shot
Electric looks
Across the tilting ballrooms
To their lovers.
Drowning!
But I can still recall
That no one dropped a step.

Fly the Bosnian flag
Upside-down
For the world that
Perished
When Zeppelins
Became
Dirigibles.

Madame Odette de Vassily-Courbet,
Returning from a horse show in Danzig,
Traveling with Sylvia,
Her pedigreed whippet,
sinks beneath the waves:
A million dollars worth of diamonds
Still firmly lodged
In her sanitary napkin

.Five years later,
The Pomorska Brigade calvary
Gallops across the plains,
Brandishing lances,
Hoping to pummel the massed Panzerwagen
or
Swat down the Stukas
That menace next year's Easter eggs.

Bambi is in flames!

The iron deer has
Melted
On the lawn!

The saxophonist floats past the chandelier,
Drifting
Motionlessly
From stateroom to steerage.
Bones away
In Warsaw's phospherescent sewers.

Listen closely.
This is the last time
They'll be playing the refrain.

Dr. Ré
Foretold the past;
Claimed the future
Would not last.
Black queen
Falls
On black queen
When another dying lesbian
Opens
Out of town.