Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Eclogue to an Artist

Eclogue to an Artist

By Mariko Nagai

For J.R.

The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, til I end my song.
                   —T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land


The river between us is a messenger of another era, an outdated way to post secret courtships. The East River has carried too many come-cries and lovers' laments, carrying drooping latex on its own shoulder, burdened with sounds of one-night grunts past the dress hems, toward hands between the pant legs. Instead of letters, you send me pictures of naked women and men, specimens of the finest, or the worst of things better left unexposed in day light. Instead of Mooselake of northern Minnesota where the big canvas of trees may trap the human souls, where the Pan-like goddess dances on the white sheet, come stains shining on her thighs like scattered pearls, instead of a whole landscape of the body, or this unreal city, you send me frozen moments of people miming love, their genitals stuck together like a butterfly pinned onto the dark velvet. Love poems are outdated like drawing rooms and making love, so in return, I cut parts of women, paste them together, send them back to where you are: there's the picture of a dog penetrating the woman, it means, here is another name for bestiality, we are not far from what we love distantly. Here's the picture of a woman with a twelve-inch penis, almost as if it is part of her body, here is another name for courtship, here is a man without a face, she is looking for him among her audience, we are searching for a part of ourselves, we are like any other we read in books, we are like any other. I don't remember how to write "love poems," so instead, I toss you off slowly in the dark movie theater and dawn-close living room. As I watch the credits roll by, you button up and hide your shame. After that, this unreal city takes on an erotic air: doorways become an open coffin of quick embrace, sign posts a wall to push you against, trees taken on different names. Trees are everywhere, they have become 36 stories high and made of steel and glasses, they watch us, catch your face, release instantly. They show me your soul as we hurry though the streets, they show my face as you push your penis in my mouth. All specimen are caught behind the glassed windows. The river between us only carries messages of still lives back and forth, back and forth, these pictures quivering with the sudden movement of energy, or human hand, like a larva slowly stretching its wings out to become a butterfly, only to be glassed for its exotic markings.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Spring 1999), pp. 147-148


Mariko Nagai

Mariko Nagai was born in Tokyo and raised in Europe and America. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction. Nagai's collection of poems, Histories of Bodies, won the Benjamin Saltman Prize from Red Hen Press, and her first collection of stories, Georgic: Stories, won the 2009 G.S. Sharat Chandra Fiction Prize from BkMk Press. Her other books include Instructions for the Living (Word Palace P) and Dust of Eden (Albert Whitman & Co), a verse novel for MG/YA, which is forthcoming.

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