"How can you love," she said,
"People who did this?"
I looked across the chairtop
Down along her shoulder
To the book flat in her lap.
Her right hand lay
Spread upon the text,
A witness's on a Bible.
The left page was a photograph,
Antique, the image indistinct
Until I moved my head, focusing
My glasses for the range.
It sprang to detail:
The body of a man on barren ground,
In chaparral. A distant tree.
Two soldiers in attendance.
And a saddled horse, reins dragging.
A Matthew Brady look disclosed
the picture's age.
The corpse was naked, bearded, prone.
Wounds ran down the thighs
Like open zippers.
On the torso, piled a jumble that
I understood was organs.
The face seemed poorly focused.
Eyes? Black blots of shadow?
Mouth? All wrong. Something
Not a tongue lolled from it.
I measured the meaning of a black mass
Where legs joined torso.
A hand, palm down, was fisted
or truncated to a fist.
"Savages," she whispered, like an oath.
He's standing in, I thought to say,
For men who sabred children,
Men who fashioned keepsakes
Of the breasts those children nursed.
But I did not.
I thought then, while she waited,
Of Donatien Alfonse François,
Philosophe and gentleman,
Cause celebre de belles lettristes français:
A hot wine flask, procured him
By his doting wife, warming
The pleasure that his hand massaged—
Pleasure he could not complete
Until he had imagined
The imagined boy's head severed.
Then his dribbling semen
Mingled with imagined dripping blood,
Oiling his real knuckles.
I thought of Teddy Bundy,
Young Republican and lawyer,
Gentleman, raping his last victim,
Parting her young hymen
With the rhythmic plunging of
a six-inch knife.
I thought of Gladstone's England,
The gentleman, a prince or prince's surgeon,
Who for two months roamed Whitechapel,
Laid his purchased lovers,
Unlanded, undignified, and poor,
Out on beds like luggage,
Organs set about like unpacked
Clothing, cluttering the bed;
waiting for the bobbies
in a kitchen pan.
I thought of lampshades, mangled
Fetuses, and mounds of teeth for melting,
Moans and quick, efficient silence,
A Christian woman choosing from her children
who should die.
I murmured to her hair,
Where she sat there,
so patient, certain, waiting,
that we take bad with the good.