The Flagrant Dead
The Flagrant Dead
                          on the earliest photographic erotica

And here, too, are the libertines, the demi-reps,
of Finsbury Park and the Haymarket streets,
the gardens of pleasure in Cremorne and Soho,
with their gas-lit circles, crystal, and kiosks.
Reduced, long-dead, they incline, they awaken;
look, their earliest eyes, wide open, or seeming so,
from the bog-house, the cesspool, of sin,
stare back at us, demanding that we watch.

And in their eyes is the absolute suspension
of the pose, skirts lifted, knee socks down,
thick erection poised, its bold inaction held,
while an open shutter gathers in the light.
The women are supine or offer to be mounted,
staring back or up, and some with smiles,
while the men, their unbuttoned trousers
trenched below their thighs, shirt tails trailing,
heavy suspenders undone, lean forward,
toward and around the dark inviting center.
What strikes us most are the faces turned,
the looks of invitation in the dead immediate,
the easy letting-go of all reserve.

Against this put pretense: nymphs and satyrs,
lovers on a swing or fleeing the sudden storm,
the moment when a dear intended paused,
her duty in the balance, to contemplate her heart.
Think, too, of how Rossetti made his wife
the “Blessed Beatrice” of his charged desire;
recall, as well, Alice’s unbudded charm,
arranged just so, all pose, all likelihood.
Instead these images perform themselves;
these dead, like lunatics, avert no appetite;
their under-petticoats, their corded dimity
adorned like turkey-work, their pin-up coats
of Scotch plaid, tricked with bugle lace,
their gowns of printed calico, come off,
dead-level, down to this; no lace-trimmed
cambric shirt, no silk cravat, no beauty wash,
no essences of jasmine, keep all fresh,
in struggles long and hard against undress.

What anxious thought inhibits us tonight?
What dread of illness or of slouching gait?
Whose eyes are these, and whose attractive lips?
In mirrors, as we watch, our masks dissolve,
our glasses fill with spirited champagne;
we please ourselves to praise the flagrant dead,
to celebrate the vintage of their spending.