The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Rosanna Oh
Pygmalion in Old Age
When his wife's mind went,
he saw what was left of her
and that, he came to acknowledge,
was her body.
He undressed that body, taking
the yellowed underwear.
There, the nipples.
There, the vagina
(it was linty down there).
Under the morning light,
the body shuddered blue
as though it had just been born.
"When did I awake?" the body asked once.
"I had a death dream again. The black
was blacker and the cold
felt colder than before. Don't
run away, don't leave me alone."
He didn't think to answer.
Instead, he began to work the flesh
with his fingers.
She covered her face with her hands.
Her heart twitched faster.
That summer of too much sun we collected caterpillars
to shelter them inside a blue plastic Fisher-Price bucket
where it was cool and dark.
My five-year-old brother had the sense
to leave several twigs and tufts of clover.
I liked to watch the things crawl over one another
like waves in mutant syncopation—
the more they had moved with life, the more confident
we became in our mission.
After the rain fell later,
we took off the lid:
the water inside rippled
with the black of swollen caterpillars.
By my window, anemones, full-headed and tall,
wine red anemones with a caterpillar on one stem.
The caterpillar arches its limbless body back
into the wind
like a lover then turns
to me. For a moment,
I'd like to think we study each other.
Ah, this small life.
The leather back straps of my sandals cut into my ankles.
My neck's turned stiff from staring up.
This wonderful cathedral is our fifth one in Paris.
The next one is the Notre-Dame.
The tour guide points to the largest rose window
as we stand below the marble crossing:
the Virgin Mary and her child sit at the center
and around them, interspersed between
skeletal mullions, are holy people,
though it's difficult to tell them apart.
Everyone has a halo.
Nothing's new, really.
The same stories live in the stained glass:
one, two, three.
The tour guide says Saint Denis in the window
was made in the likeness of a roofer
who fell off the cathedral's dome
then died from a broken neck.
Both men had plush brown curls.
And the saint with two lions is supposed
to be a girl who ran with cows
before she died in a field of rye
that caught fire one summer.
But even now, I begin to believe
God may speak to me while I,
struck by the design of crosses
against the rose windows flushing at dusk,
wait in the tinted shadows.
I pay to light a candle before I exit.
Hundreds of flames make haloes withering in the dark.
The old masters knew their stuff—
they were persuasive as those holy people must have been
with their high unoriginal art.
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