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.
Mrs. Oleander at Four O’clock
Martinu and a yellow vase
in the mellow light of a
an ease of lung and limb
and thoughts that fizz, altering
nothing, like so many sparks, like
smoke from her illicit cigarette.
Not complacent yet in accord
with the carpets, the flow of
her rooms, Martinu, the gentians;
even breathing breeds well-being,
a sweetly weightless transaction
of air to air, emptying and filling,
pleura to pneuma. She feels she’s
on a charming via media, a
tranquil path on which she can
promenade for two precious hours,
a mayfly’s span, or a flower’s.
Work yokes us to the world. Ahab
heaving at the blank white flank,
Cézanne scrutinizing a hillside,
Freud scribbling on his two-ton desk,
earning their livings, living.
It needn’t be the typing pool at
Donnelly Manufacturing or
the night shift at the Pig ‘n Whistle.
Was work more real than leisure,
exhaustion worthier than the
doubtful dignity of this idleness?
Yes, she’d worked once, more or less.
Buzz, biz, busy business, clack-clack.
She’d tickled the typewriter as an
eager man does a frigid woman,
trying to make meaninglessness mean
something, turn labor to play, pleasure.
She’d enjoyed her common rank of
employee, the shared resentments,
secrets of secretarial gossip.
She smiles to recall her fear
of little Mr. Gargoyle (that’s what
they’d called the boss) whose pendulous
earlobes flapped in his red rages
when he docked some poor girl’s wages.
The luxury of one soft sigh
signifies encroaching dusk and
the homecoming of Mr. Oleander
with his needs. Never ask too much
or too little, offer a martini
and save arguments till after
the news lends them perspective.
Such unassuming patient craft,
with something fragrant on the stove,
almost passes for the art of love.
“Mrs. Oleander at Four O’clock” first appeared in Poem
Adieu, Mrs. Oleander
After lunch in Passy we took dinner
in a bistro off the Boulevard St. Michel;
one dozen oysters left you thinner
than the streamers on the Tour Eiffel.
Like molten lead it rained on mercredi,
poured on Montmartre, Notre Dame, on me
and you while we played at saint and sinner.
Salaud you giggled; I called you chérie.
Free from ashes, still hot with flames,
hearts filled with glee and children’s games:
did I lose through feeling like a winner?
Mrs. Oleander all grown up
ignores the constellations wheeling
over her roof, possums down among the pines
beyond the backyard and the pool.
Her husband collects preferred stock and wines;
the children are tucked into private school.
Mr. O. invests in land and forces
one to admire his common sense.
Mrs. Oleander takes courses
in ikebana and current events.
At dawn in les Halles I felt forsaken,
spooning onion soup instead of going to bed.
There is something Biblical about you;
I see you richly clad like the women
whose price is above rubies or taken
in adultery or hacking off a head.
Dance, Mrs. O., in the fire of five chandeliers,
rhumba through your high-ceilinged rooms;
pay retail, Mrs. O., you can afford
to; foxtrot in your ceremonious
cocktail dress, under mudpacks in Gstaad,
wrapped in a soft white towel, beyond envy.
Whirl like the virgin of seventeen,
with her childish God and yearning lashes,
the sexpot of twenty whose eager eyes
smoldered at dusk and burnt nights to ashes.
What wisdom, Mrs. Oleander,
what wisdom as I say leb’wohl to you
who could teach me about emery boards and how
to shop for sheets but not what’s truly true?
Dance like a shopper, wife, and daughter;
you are what you love not what you pay.
Being is the wave and not the water
and life’s a dance where you can move yet stay.
“Adieu, Mrs. Oleander” first appeared in Sou’wester
©2016 Robert Wexelblatt