As he holds forth on the subject of “The Decorative Arts”
the smell of Brimstone Creek
conveys him to that realm of le désespoir
in which the flesh is willing but the spirit weak.
Since he waltzed off the ship
in January, this trip
has already seen him lounging in so many far-flung parts
to offer his critique
of “that which hallows the vessels
of everyday use,” the very horsehair couch
now longs to be released
from the burden of its being. He won’t quite vouch
for his own being in the grip
of a rose-hipped
angel in the front row who seems to overly wrestle
with his meaning, yet Oscar senses they might yet crouch
in a river-fault
overwhelmed by the same purple loosestrife
as stowed away in the Arizona’s ballast.
A deckhand has been known to find beauty in a butter knife
and a hulking Chinese navvy to sip
tea from a bone china lip.
Back in London, all the while, a pillar of salt
is turning into the woman who’ll shortly become his wife.
Excerpted from Howdie-Skelp: Poems by Paul Muldoon. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2021 by Paul Muldoon. All rights reserved.