Twenty Questions

Saturday, July 15, 2023

I’m here auditioning for the role of Tony, a man/boy who met
what they call in melodrama an untimely death.

Please note my resemblance to the dead emblem
you’ve always idolized and yearned for.

I found a new word yesterday, “girandole.” 
An ornamental branched candlestick. Perfect for Purgatorio.

I don’t want to impersonate the martyr
though if you’re the figure dying onstage, agony’s girandole

holds regenerating candles aloft in its pincers,
clematis mitigating the wound, and purple

larkspur no longer capable of cure. In the early 1990s, my Tony
(his real name was John) died in his small cottage by the Sound.

He was my barber. He also designed and sewed impractical outfits—
tablecloth togas, couch-slipcover caftans.

He died from complications. In those days
it wasn’t always easy to specify, without shame, the name

of the agent catalyzing the complications.
He gave away his possessions in the months before his end.

I received his Dante, paperback, three volumes.
Whenever I’m on the verge of giving them away

I notice again that he signed his name
large on each volume’s opening page.

I can’t relinquish translations that testify to a love
for traveling downward to the inferno

he might never have described or written down.
He also gave me handmade children’s building blocks 

with fragments of Marilyn Monroe’s face imprinted,
in proper sequence, on each cube’s black-and-white paper sides.

The year he temporarily regained his body’s equilibrium
before it abandoned him again

he opened a store, at once a hair salon
and a boutique, where he could sell his outlandish

yet spartan costumes, apt for a Louise Brooks Joan of Arc.
He called the shop “Twenty Questions.” On High Street. 

With charcoal, draw a ring around what you don’t know,
and fill the empty circle with twenty questions.

A single ring, however wide, can’t circumscribe
my crowd of conundrums within one unfixed willow O.

Saturday, July 15, 2023