Disco Jesus and the Wavering Virgins in Berlin, 2011

Although a man, I no longer want.
I disown and forget all desires of the flesh.
Preacher on late-night television

How convenient, I say, out loud, to the darkened
room, to the tetras beneath their flickering tube light
weaving their Möbius strip through the wet fire
of the only world they know. Because when I can’t sleep

this is what I do: I sit in darkness
flicking through the god channels, sneering
and answering back, lobbing the dog’s soft toys
at the screen; while across the hall sleeps a man

who makes it dishonest for a woman
to disown her desires—whose body becomes,
during sex, one long wound.
Because every scar is a door

into something and I have never known a body
with scars like his: shrapnel, bullet, knife blade.
The English, I told him once, as I placed
the welter of my lips to his damages one by one, assume

that the French verb blesser—to wound—means
to bless; and he, without remembering he said it,
said: the way in and the way out—the doors
to heaven are always small. This is a man who beguiles

even the dirt up from its knees, whose hands
conjure a body for me out of the body I have; and yet
every bed is a death bed; and yet, the only
door out of the body is death. Outside, a great city

and its troubled history under rain. How is it
we can be loved so well and remain
so famished still? I rejoice, says the preacher, relaxing
into his tooled-leather chair, in the celibate life

and the thought of one day dying into heaven.
Behind him, deep in an alcove, washed by slow strobes
of alternating colour, Jesus, life-size and on the cross,
turns from blue to red to yellow and I, suddenly,

am back in adolescence, at those dreadful
Youth Club discos—all cheap lighting and tinny reverb
and hidden pints of liquor—where I
once let a boy called Martin nudge his hand,

centimetre by centimetre—as if I wouldn’t notice—up
under my blouse until it came to rest, fingers spread,
clamped over my left breast like a fleshy starfish.
I let him because he was tall, a bad boy,

every girl’s crush. And because my desire
was beginning to acquire a formal structure.
The Lord’s is not the voice of speculation, He
can offer proof, claims the preacher, crossing his legs,

as Jesus turns yellow turns orange turns green;
He can offer proof. So, I say, out loud, as a single
tetra breaks from the neon spackle of the crowd,
Disco Jesus, give me a sign. I watch the small fish,

little morsel of colour, drift upwards and place
the dark foyer of its tiny mouth against the roof
of its world. And what use, really, is this life, if it’s not
one long sheath of longing. In this life,

proclaims the preacher, we are all under siege, beset
with temptation. So let us pray, he says,
for the wavering virgins. The duty,
someone said, of the poet

is to serve. But I say the poet’s duty is to wait;
to wait in the dark at the world’s mercy; to wait—
while a lover sleeps naked in a king-size bed
and a dog the colour of butter

twitches on its rug in the kitchen—for moments
such as this. In the beginning is the word. And the word
is sex. In the beginning is the kiss that gives rise
to the myth of Eden—that bright landscape, unfettered

by history, that we make when we place
our open mouth to the open mouth of another
for the very first time. And yet there is
no garden in which the lion ever will

lie down with the lamb. And, like this, the whole
body becomes an eye turned to nothing
but its own pleasure. And every time we lie down
to assuage our loneliness, we find the flesh

already there, waiting. And all we ever want to do is undo
the violence of this world, and yet that’s how we lie down—
with need and avarice. In the beginning,
as I remember it, is a walled garden, the white

staples of croquet hoops punched into a lawn. Beyond,
in a field, a horse with a tail so long it brushes the grass.
I am eighteen. It is late summer. It’s farm work. It’s room
and board and pocket change for college. Summer’s end,

then; the cut fields at dusk and hawks
slicing low over the brittle blonde pipes of stubble.
So many lives already undone by the round scythes
of the combine. Every night in my single bed

I listen to the pauses and the breaks in the bicker
of the shower as the farmer’s eldest son
twists and turns beneath it in the small bathroom
along the hall. When I imagine his body—which I do,

and often—it’s as a series of broad, quiet rooms
inside the rattle of falling water. He becomes a man
made up of absence. When I can, I like to watch
him work as he bends, rapt, over the yawn

of an engine. The thrill of his fingers slipping
deep as the second knuckle, sometimes deeper,
into slick, tight gaps in the engine’s armour.
In the beginning, as I remember it, he puts on his boots

and a waxed jacket and walks with his dog
and a shotgun out into the fields. I do not remember
the gun’s report, but if I am not with him
why are there pigeons, all flash and clatter,

breaking for the open, out from the fenced
green explosion of a beech copse. Why do I feel,
still, the sudden change in their purchase on the air—
a few seconds of wild churn and scramble before the spin

down into the stubble. There’s the unlit weight
of each skull’s chamber, the beak’s loose tweezers,
the eyes’ eclipse. And a small rip that appears
in the clouds—a blue mouth carried from one horizon

to the other. And it’s inevitable, really: with the harvest
in and the summer over, with his parents at church again
every Sunday. It is inevitable. And afterwards we lie
like moist kindling under the covers and the world

is just as it was, only more so. Over the fields,
first mist of September unfurling its aprons the colour of iron.
Rooks like black static. And a breeze heckling metal
out of the grass until the lawn is a carpet

of knives. It is my job to cut and split and ransack
the nave of each bird, which his mother will bake
later, with orange juice and honey. Six birds
in a wheel on a willow pattern plate, a carousel

of pigeons, their bald, glazed wings like tiny flippers,
and what meat there is latticed by shot. I am eighteen.
It is 1978. The year Sweden outlaws aerosols,
and Markov, Bulgarian defector, is assassinated

with a poisoned umbrella tip. The year America
ceases, or so we are told, production of the neutron bomb
and Egypt makes peace with Israel and war begins
in Afghanistan and a man more than twice my age teaches me

that the body is its own reward. I am haunted still
by the sacks of the gizzards, those little bags
of pebbles and grit; by the discovery that birds, who rise
above the earth, still carry its dirt inside them. And these days

I sleep right through the minor disturbance
of my lover’s shower, and when I wake, he’s at work,
in jeans, perhaps, but shaved, his feet on the table
and a folder of case notes before him and his gun,

unbreakable heart, in a holster against his ribs.
He will have left, as he always does, a knife
out on the cutting board, the juice of an orange
like shellac on the blade. The hungers of the body,

says the preacher, always lead us astray. So let us pray.
Outside, the red crumble of tail lights down Linienstraβe.
A great city and its troubled history under rain.
The whole of Europe under the same rain. A waver,

I once read, is a young tree left uncut
during the clearing of timber. Rain, somewhere, loosening
its clothes to play wanton in the fields; rain
drumming its fingers on the green tiers of the trees.

The loneliness of rain that has come so far
touching only one leaf. And where rain is falling
where there are no leaves, a greater loneliness. Every word
for what we are leads us back to this. Human,

from the Latin humus meaning earth. Flesh,
from the Greek, related to sarx, meaning earthly; meaning,
of man set adrift from the divine. Every word
for what we are brings us back to the dirt. So yes, I say,

let us pray. Let there be buttons abandoning
their buttonholes. Let tongues unbuckle, let watches,
let belts. May the small change fallen
from pockets be forgotten, abandoned, never found.

And shy flags of hair swing loose. Storms
inside strokes of wind. The world is full of alchemy,
so let there be questions and demands. Small talk,
dirty talk, language in all denominations. Let keys

drop and fingers find every latch and lock,
and let each leg peel free from the long, sheer throat
of its stocking. Let hearts be up to their necks
in longing. May jackets and shirts

turn inside out; may the body—in rooms
specially rented, in cars, on tables, in single beds on Sundays
with parents at church, their tongues extended
for the communion’s flat currency. Body, believed

to be related to Old Norse buthker, meaning box; as in,
coffin that goes into the earth. And when they go down
may they go down like the heavy crops go down
before the cutter—without choice and ripe

with rains and sugar. And let each accept,
with almost no regret, what this will mean:
that what they believed might have been possible
is now undone. And may such a life

be the thing that makes them generous
by its absence. Jesus, abandoned on the cross, alone
in his alcove, turns from green, back to blue,
back to red, while in its tank that single tetra

creates perfect circles on the water
simply by drifting to the surface and kissing
what imprisons it. Why, if desire
is so perilous, are we given, more often than not, a god

so obviously human, with an athlete’s body, long
and well-worked; whose loincloth is slipping, pulled
down by its own slight weight, over one hip;
who has, still, despite all that’s been done to him,

such beautiful hands. A god whose crown is askew,
whose hair needs washing, whose wounds will become
the most terrible of scars. A god who may well

have desired a woman who made desire pay.
Who may well have been her lover.
Who dies with his arms wide open.

 

Copyright Jude Nutter. First published in The Moth Issue 20 Spring 2015.

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