I didn't want to walk on their faces. She’s someone’s daughter, I thought. Someone’s niece. Someone’s mother. I found a restaurant with an outdoor bar shaded by palm trees, green ferns and flowers. I sat on a stool and ordered a ginger ale. The land beneath the city felt dead, suffocated by cement, devoid of spirit, even as fountains sprayed a river of water a hundred feet into the desert air and glittering neon lights dwarfed the sun. I took deep breaths and focused my attention on two birds flittering among the branches.
Later, I wrote a poem about the young topless dancer, and her bleeding finger, and the man who bandaged it. When OPEN TO INTERPRETATION sent out a call for submissions to writers and photographers for their upcoming issue, LOVE+LUST, I sent in the poem.*
Editor Claire O’Neill writes in the book’s Introduction, “More than 2,500 photographs were submitted. Of the 31 images chosen, only one is devoid of a person. Why?” she asks us. “Maybe because love and lust relate to our very core as humans.” She goes on to quote Paulo Coelho: “Profound desire, true desire is the desire to be close to someone.”
I thought of Jennie Field’s novel The Age of Desire, about the author Edith Wharton and her scandalous, 1908 love affair with a dashing young journalist. Twelve years later, in 1920, Wharton would write her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence. “Is it—in this world—vulgar to ask for more?” asked Katherine Mansfield after reading The Age of Innocence. “To entreat a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul?”
When my contributor’s copy of LOVE+LUST arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I shied away from browsing through the beautifully designed book. Uneasy, I glanced only at my poem and the photo it had been paired with before closing the cover—a stripper in a glass booth. But last night, I took the book to bed with me and began reading. Across from each of the photographs, presented individually on the left, were two companion poems on the facing page. I paused when I got to the cover photo of the snake, and these opening lines by poet Melanie Richards: Her version of the story/remains untold: forked/tongue whispering to her/from the branches….
And so it is that we are still trying to tell our version of the story. Let us never stop. Let us seek the wildness in our souls, in our human cores, but let us also stoop to pick up the photos of the discarded women. Let us reach out to staunch the bleeding, to strive for closeness of the most profound and yes, most godly nature.
*NOTE: Wharton’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence was recently listed in The Guardian/The Observer as #45 in a list of the 100 Best Novels. My sincere thanks to Carol Muske-Dukes for her poem, "To The Muse: New Year's Eve, 1990," which inspired my poem, "For Carol Muske's Light-Eyed Drunken Girl."