I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction when I’m up to it and poems when I can’t help it. I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. My most recent book is Heiberg’s Twitch.
Beneath the immaculate linen and
those cotton socks two comely ankles swell.
Is to think of them to be led astray?
To contemplate how the bones flow so, to
wonder what is bone, what flesh, stroking
with one’s mind the unrepeatably dear
concavity between shin and calf, a
triumph of trillions of contingencies;
to caress even the curt yet tender words, the
firm Teutonic nouns—ankle, thigh, throat,
knee, brow, breast—into which a body can
be butchered or beloved? Nudity,
is vast, he warns, particularly woman’s,
albeit Solomon himself seems to
crawl like some besotted beetle hopeless
of the whole so seeking mastery of parts,
anatomizing desire with
analogies—breasts like twin fawns, teeth
like shorn ewes—a pastoral, goatish lust
born of a mind that likewise conceived the
Temple cubit by cubit. Is her hair
naked, her contralto nude only because
their tones are beautiful to beguile
and divert, because all that is unclothed
even in imagination must distract
us from our joyless prayers and loveless
commandments, thwarting the profane
redemption of modest metaphor?
Even “the voice of a singing woman,”
the sage chides, is nudity, naked sound
that dissipates thoughts of a jealous
God whose table must be primly laid,
no ankles touched beneath its spotless cloth.
Author's Note: “The concept of nudity is vast, chiefly as regards women; any portion of the body that is usually covered is nudity…. In short, nudity is everything that might attract the attention of men, distracting them from the thought of God….” [From Primo Levi, “Ritual and Laughter,” an essay on Joseph Caro’s 16th-century compendium of Jewish law Shulkhàn Arùkh (The Set Table), in Other People’s Trades, translated by Raymond Rosenthal, New York, Summit Books, 1989, p. 210]
“Caro’s Table” first appeared in Sou’wester
The Diva awakes on the morning after
she has sung, after the champagne and laughter,
snatches up the papers but ignores the news
hunting for her name in the reviews.
Then, pouncing like a tomcat on a vole,
she reads, Madam has made her own the role,
her tempi perfect, not too slow or fast;
she was divine—like the entire cast.
The Diva screeches; everyone’s afraid.
“What’s wrong, Madam?” inquires the trembling maid.
She rends the newsprint with a long, red nail:
“My triumph’s hollow—unless others fail.”
“Diva” first appeared in Light Quarterly
©2016 Robert Wexelblatt