Maxwell Bodenheim

1892 - 1954 / Mississippi / United States

Manners

Gingerly, the poets sit.
Gingerly, they spend
The adjectives of dribbling flatteries,
With here and there a laceration
Feeding on the poison of a smile.
In the home of the poet-host
That bears the slants of a commonplace,
Eagerly distributed-
The accepted lyrical note-
The poets sit.
The poets drink much wine
And tug a little at their garments,
Weighing the advantages of disrobing.
(It is necessary to call them 'poets'
Since, according to custom,
Titles are generously given to the attempt.)
Sirona, cousin of the poet-host,
Munches on a feast of words.
She endeavors to convince herself
That her hunger has become an illusion.
The poets, capitulating to wine,
Leave their birds and twilights,
Their trees and cattle at evening,
And study Sirona's body-
Their manacled hands still joined
By the last half-broken link.
Beneath her ill-fitting worship
Young Sirona fears
That the poets are wordy animals
Circled by brocaded corsets. . . .
Sirona, if you stood on your head
Now, and waved the brave plan of your legs,
Undisturbed by cloth,
The poets would be convinced
That you were either insane or angling.
But an exceptional poet,
Never present at these parties,
Would compliment your vigour
And scoff at the vain deceptions of privacy.
Vulgarity, Sirona, is often a word
Invented by certain men to defend
Their disdain for other men, who chuckle
At the skulking tyrannies of fashion.
Few man, Sirona, dare to become
Completely vulgar, but many
Nibble at the fringes.
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