by: Vance Thompson


      PEN swing the doors; the torches
      Flicker in the windy night--
      Cast strange shadows in the porches,
      Down dim alleys in the night.
      Come away now--dust and ashes--
      Dust to dust and clay to clay--
      Stormily the organ crashes--
      Dust and ashes--come away.
      High the wind snarls and the torches,
      Flaring down the blackening night,
      Toss grim shadows in the porches
      And dim alleys in the night.
      Men looked at you; saw the woman,
      Just the eyes and limbs and common
      Charm--odor di femina--that
      Draws us all. And only saw that.
      One man cared not much for seeming--
      Animal red lips and dreaming,
      Helpless eyes; great limbs; the value
      Of the flesh you wore to pall you,
      All that palpitant, sweet vesture--
      Caring not for these, he pressed your
      Body in the rack, to tear it
      Open, till he saw the spirit,
      Soul of you, its shame or merit.
      First he took your body, woman,
      Stained it, smirched it, made it common,
      Scarred it with strange loves, flagitious.
      Gored it raw with lust; set vicious
      Things to heat the eyes; lubricious,
      Unclean things to smirk and chatter
      In the ears lewd, Paphian matter.
      So he made you foul; and eager
      Then to see how fared the meagre,
      Warped, black, ulcered soul, he started
      The great rack wheels. Snapped and parted
      All the strings of the flesh raiment
      He had fouled. The man for payment
      Saw white wings flash as your soul went,
      White, white, white, to God's enrollment.
      They buried you to-night.
      He saw the yellow torches blown alight,
      Heard the organ's thunder.
      He went away into the confused night,
      Full of wonder.

"A Dead Woman" is reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith. New York: Crown Publishers, 1921.




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