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Louis Simpson
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The man who married Magdalene


A story about chicken soup
The Ash and the Oak
Early in the morning
The Custom Of The World

The Custom Of The World

O, we loved long and happily, God knows!
The ocean danced, the green leaves tossed, the air
Was filled with petals, and pale Venus rose
When we began to kiss. Kisses brought care,
And closeness caused the taking off of clothes.
O, we loved long and happily, God knows!
'The watchdogs are asleep, the doormen doze...'
We huddled i the corners of the stair,
And then we climbed it. What had we to lose?
What would we gain? The best way to compare
And quickest, was by taking off our clothes.
O, we loved long and happily, God knows!
Between us two a silent treason grows,
Our pleasures have been changed into despair.
Wild is the wind, from a cold country blows,
In which these tender blossoms disappear.
And did this come of taking off our clothes?
O, we loved long and happily, God knows!
Mistress, my song is drawing to a close.
Put on your rumpled skirt and comb your hair,
And when we meet again let us suppose
We never loved or ever naked were.
For though this nakedness was good, God knows,
The custom of the world is wearing clothes.



Here sit a shepherd and a shepherdess,
He playing on his melancholy flute;
The sea wind ruffles up her simple dress
And shows the delicacy of her foot.

And there you see Constantinople's wall
With arrows and Greek fire, molten lead;
Down from a turret seven virgins fall,
Hands folded, each one praying on her head.

The shepherd yawns and puts his flute away.
It's time, she murmurs, we were going back.
He offers centain reasons she should stay -
But neither sees the dragon on their track.

A dragon like a car in a garage
Is in the wood, his long tail sticking out.
Here rides St. George, swinging his sword and targe,
And sticks the grinning dragon in the snout.

Puffing a smoke ring, like the sigarette
Over Times Sguare, Sir Dragon snorts his last.
St. George takes off his armor in a sweat.
The Middle Ages have been safely passed.


The man who married Magdalene
Had not forgiven her
God might pardon every sin
Love is no pardonet.

Her hands were hollow, pale and blue,
Her mouth like watered wine.
He watched to see if she were true
And waited for a sign.

It was old harlotry, he guessed
That drained her strength away,
So gladly for the dark she dressed,
So sadly for the day.

Their quarrels made her dull and weak
And soon a man might fit
A penny in the hollow cheek
And never notice it.

At last, as they exhausted slept,
Death granted the divorce.
And nakedly the woman leapt
Upon the narrow horse.

But when he woke and woke alone
He wept and would deny
The loose behaviour of the bone
And the immodest thigh.

A story about chicken soup.

In my grandmother's house there was always chicken soup
And talk of the old country--mud and boards,
The snow falling down the necks of lovers.
Now and then, out of her savings
She sent them a dowry.
The rice-powdered faces!
And the smell of the bride, like chicken soup.
But the Germans killed them.
I know it's in bad taste to say it,
But it's true.
The Germans killed them all.
In the ruins of Berchtesgaden
A child with yellow hair
Ran out of a doorway.
A German girl-child---
Cuckoo, all skin and bones---
Not even enough to make chicken soup.
She sat by the stream and smiled.
Then as we splashed in the sun
She laughed at us.
We had killed her mechanical brothers,
So we forgave her.
The sun is shining.
The shadows of the lovers have disappeared.
They are all eyes; they have some demand on me---
They want me to be more serious than I want to be.
They want me to stick in their mudhole
Where no one is elegant.
They want me to wear old clothes,
They want me to be poor, to sleep in a room with many others---
Not to walk in the painted sunshine
To a summer house,
But to live in the tragic world forever.

The Ash and the Oak

When men discovered freedom first
The fighting was on foot,
They were encouraged by their thirst
And promises of loot,
And when it feathered and bows boomed
Their virtues was a root.

O the ash and the oak and the willow tree
And the green grows the grass on the infantry;

At Malplaquet and Waterloo
They were polite and proud,
They primed their guns with billet-doux
And, as they fired, bowed.
At Appomatox too, it seems
Some things were understood.

O the ash and the oak and the willow tree
And the green grows the grass on the infantry;

But at Verdun and at Bastogne
There was a great recoil,
The blood was bitter to the bone
The trigger to the soul,
And death was nothing if not dull,
A hero was a fool.

O the ash and the oak and the willow tree
And thats the end of the infantry.

Early in the morning
The dark Queen said,
The trumpets are warning
Theres trouble ahead.
Spent with carousing,
With wine-soaked wits
Anthony drowsing
Whispered, Its
To cold a morning
To get out of bed

The armys retreating,
The fleet has fled,
Caesar is beating
His drums through the dead.
Anthony, horses!
Well get away,
Gather other forces
For another day
Its a cold morning,
Anthony said.

Caesar Augustus
Cleared his phlegm.
Corpses disgust us.
Cover them.
Caesar Augustus
In his time lay
Dying, and just as
Cold as they,
On the cold morning
Of a cold day.

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2001 Elena and Yakov Feldman