It was your favorite piece of fatherly advice:
Be careful about stale green lights,
because they can turn red pretty damn fast,
and be careful chasing women in red,
because they can spend your green even faster,
your eyes shining with pride at your own wit
upon every repetition. Of course I listened.
Who was I not to acknowledge your wisdom?
And yet there was the Venus myth to deal with,
eternally, ubiquitously unfolding for adolescent boys
in the person of one girl or another: at the lip of the ocean
a goddess on the half shell blossoms from
her own father’s spilled blood. Her tresses a froth
of blonde algae, she stalks the tide on champagne boots
and beckons, beacon eyes vermilion with the sea –
behind them wait casks of amontillado.
Were you watching, Dad, god-fashion,
when she first drew me into that absinthian light?
She knew I was a lush, knew how to call me,
engulfing your maxim in her love-moans:
something between a gasp and a prayer.
The girl in my arms looked too young even to drive,
but with all that immortality gleaming in her eyes,
I recognized an Olympian.
Myths don’t surrender to us, but we to them. The waves,
bags filled with hands unclenching fistfuls of glimmer,
doggedly scrub the virgin sand,
sluicing away even the dream of impurity.
But Venus straddles them like supine lovers,
riding each to its crash,
making even their ablution an oblation to her.
Who was I to resist becoming a votary?
I waded into the waving hands
that folded me in the rhythm of arch and moan,
submerged like your words in the depths
behind the pulsing light, my heart’s crimson
splashing its percussion against a girl.
Tell me, Dad, if you watched with disappointment,
or if my failure to heed advice then
gave your eyes a new pride to shine with.
“Vesper” was previously published in ken*again, Fall 2004