Young Sick Bacchus

This light yellows
like a bruise
when the end’s
near. Stay here

with me, stung
smell of lye,
latherless my arms
wasting hot,

sandalwood fixed
to lathe and whirring.
Rowel me on—come, look
what I’ve done for you,

I’ve counted
these twenty-some grapes
clinging to sallow stem
thin as a wick—

dressed in my finest
white linen, helix
of ivy tricked
into my hair,

ibex beauty,
suspense of black
grapes hanging off
this wooden table

like an upturned hand—
pour another, it’s stronger
than it looks, and table’s ajar,
nothing will stay put 

today, peaches careening away
and outside a radio tuning,
crackling of flies outside
the window of this rented room,

even my tunic’s
slipping loose, don’t
look—do you know
about the great man’s ruby—

heavy gleam like
sewer water sputtering
through Rome’s stone gutters
pinned to his finger,

and if you kiss it
you catch it, slippery
as scum. These grapes
are a long thread

of black rubies,
only indulgence
I could spare

don’t take them all.
But just one more?
As boys we dangled
the bunches down

into each other’s mouths—
open up—
sudden breaking
on tongues muffled

grapeskin sticking
at the back of the throat
like a word unvoiced—
as late one afternoon

he and I scampered off
to the olive grove,
fruitless, grey, something like
abstract statuaries,

sun high overhead
but shadows lengthening
toward us as we entered
the stucco-walled field,

dusty scent of quartz
on the air, and what started
falling was snow,
white as a placebo—

how much control
do you think I have—
and his hand inside
my tunic a warm body,

and all that time aware
of where the yew grows,
sticks if you stumble,
let’s not go there—

and the bushes
of prickly rosemary
are beautiful because
they move like the soul,

piling sharp on sharp
in weak banks
too tight to wave in wind,
and even I will agree,

when it snaps
the smell stays
in the mind a long time
like a fugue recorded,

sound of the piano
bench creaking
under the man
with the fingers.

I’m getting so thin,
that bench wouldn’t know
I’m there, or that piano,
or this table—

a bench for you
if you’d care to stay,
toy my ring of ruby
with your lips,

graceful just once more.
I hope it’s not—
oh, boys. The wine’s
a bit young

but it will do the trick,
and do you like
what you can see,
all these goodies,

they’re only here
because you are here—
open up, open up.