A Note on Ovid

by Charles Israel, Jr.

It is like opening my dead lover’s hands,
When I open Ovid’s Metamorphoses
To the lovers and their loins, translated
By A. E. Housman, angry with his verbs
And angry with being gay.

Across the alley of dogwood bracts
The neighbors are going at it:
The sounds of sex give
The Belgian-lace curtains
Of their bedroom a flutter.
There be a cool breeze in that house
That don’t blow here.

The sparrows of Nanjing
Killed in Mao’s Great Sparrow Campaign
Left the indents of their bodies
Above the branches of the scholar-trees.
Filling in these indents now?
Speakers the size of sparrows,
A marquetry of their song.

The beaks of beaten sparrows
Are like love and love in recherché.
They so seldom occlude.

Their songs feel espaliered tonight
As they carry down the dogwood
Branches and into my blood vessels.
In The Metamorphoses the viper
Is whispering through the jasmine
Before he kills Eurydice
On her wedding day,
Before she sleeps with Orpheus.

CHARLES ISRAEL, JR., teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. His chapbook, Stacking Weather, received the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize. His poem, “Spring and Winter, Coeval” was selected as a Poem of the Day by Poetry Daily. His poems and short stories have appeared in Field, Crazyhorse, North Carolina Literary Review, Nimrod International Journal, and Zone 3. He lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife and daughter.