Karren Alenier


My husband Paul Bowles bought an island
off the coast of Ceylon.
had an octagonal house opened
to the elements--no closing
doors or windows,  no permanent
interior walls.
                           At night, large tooth bats
with three-foot wing spans, soared
through our lotus hall.
                                         Initially, we wasted
our flashlight batteries to gawk
at the beastsso many of them
in our garden hanging
in the trees.
                        At first four of us
Paul, Paul's protege Ahmed, our driver
Temsamany and I occupied
the house sleeping in alcoves
made private by curtains. I couldn't sleep,
the heat burned more intense than Panama.

"Timmie," I said, "turn on the light.
In the house of Poe are things that bite."
But in the flicker of the oil lamp, menacing
shadows populated our camp.
I said, "kill that pungent flame. God
only knows why I came.  
                                             I couldn't sleep
and there was nothing to drink.
I said, "turn on the light. My hair is a fright.
It's falling out in clumps. That devil drumming
on the mainland scares me, makes me
jump. Walk on the water, tell them to stop.
My ears are gonna pop! Fit a sunbill
over my twitching eyes, then maybe
I could write till I drop.
                                        What deep pit
will I plummet into? What hairy fingers
and stinging tails will grab
and stab me? Timmie, Timmie,
douse that fire. No, no, bring me
whiskey! How about gin?
With this thirst, I could ignite
a funeral pyre."

While every morning at sunrise
Paul, dressed in a sarong, wrote
The Spider's House, I, the Spider's
Wife, meditated on a drawing room
comedy. Not a comedy, more a moral
tract about a married pair: she, jealous;
he, indifferent; each enjoying many
                Ahmed Yacoubi set up his easel
and painted primitive landscapes.
Paul coached, encouraged, breathed
down Ahmed's neckpretty boy Ahmed,
eyes, black and deep like caves. Ahmed
who plays his flute to blow life
into his finished painting.
                                               Timmie dreamed
about Paul's Jaguar, parked and unmanned
in Tangier.
                     But I couldn't think and I had nothing
to drink. Was I a faker bored with the daily rain
what was wrong with my brain? Did Paul whisper
I was a neurotic sick at the lack of friends to gossip
with at the local pub? Or did I Jane Bowles
swallowing Serpasil, a blood pressure
drug, suffer a damaged heart? Why
couldn't I start my play?
                                          I said,  "Timmie, let's pick up
our skirts, visit Colombo. Low tide now, we won't get
that wet." Not be dry, that was my plan. Down a few
rounds, kick off my shoes and dance, fly quenched.

Then came Peggy Guggenheim ready to slum
with artists out on the edge. Unlike Libby
Holman hoping to marry Paul and call me
sister, Peggy didn't even bat lashes
at my mister. Peggy, just an heiress
complaining about wetting her bottom  
on the low-tide wade to Taprobanhey!
no gondolas waited at convenient wharves
the other lacks, no running water
for a shower, no electric lights
to illuminate her bedtime
novel, didn't raise her well-plucked
                      Actually, she noticed
my distress, offered to take me
to Bombay and Calcutta, but India,
I sniffed, meant withdrawing
from my work. My subjects played
on the black basalt of Paul's island.
So Peggy and I spent a week in Colombo,
circling Ahmed's flat images. I served as her wife.
She wouldn't let me share her bed, but I know
I got into her head. The head that saw
our house on Taprobane
as the Taj Mahal.
                                But I still couldn't think
and had too much to drink. All the webs
of my dear spider could not cradle,
could not rock, those endless hours
on that tropical clock.

Karren LaLonde Alenier is author of five collections of poetry, including Looking for Divine Transportation (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press), winner of the 2002 Towson University Prize for Literature. Her poetry and fiction have been published in such magazines as the Mississippi Review, Jewish Currents, and Poet Lore. Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, her opera with composer William Banfield and Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes, premiered in New York City in June 2005. Forthcoming in the fall of 2007 is The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas, her collection of essays about creating opera in America and the libretto Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.



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