Poetry - Dropping Balm, The Absinthe Literary Review

by Maria Cuervo

During the study of human anatomy and neo-Platonism

or was it plate tectonics,
in the 20th century
men began to think they understood the universe
or a view of it
that surpassed those found
in paintings from the 1500s
where one encounters
images of aquariums, trees,
measuring devices and flying machines.

We are beyond that now.
When the scientists of our time,
like those of the earlier period
find themselves bored
they turn to a less serious amusement—
that of inventing the improbable
soon to be probable
give or take a hundred years.

These flights of fancy, contraptions
only understood by the Fords of our day,
they find quite essential
whereas bones and Platonic love
the sifting of carbon for dating,
(yes, what an ignorance
poets feel in describing such things)
have no use once detached from
their premise or should I say premises.

The use of the surreal, impossible, mythic,
long reserved for the Greeks—
Cyclops, for instance, whose gigantism
was never explained nor the lone eye
nor his obsession with tiny women such as Galatea—
became normal science
as Christians flocked to universities,
thinking it might lend credence to their

Perhaps Cyclops had little point
once detached from his human subject.
Romantic melancholy
was an aspect his victims
never saw
but I suppose that his love for her was certainly
more entertaining
than his anatomical defects
and that she didn’t return that misplaced affection
does not negate the fact that
he is still more familiar in literary circles today than
she could have hoped to be though she
herself is well-documented, with or
without Cyclops—
one hell of a girl.

Our archivists peel her back like a tangerine,
like a fruit with the moon’s composure but less pale.

In other respects
we exhibit that same control,
not sensing how the deck is stacked,
how the universe wheedles about
among our private organs, we think
we’ll age more slowly.
We think we can live indefinitely
if only we can convince our cells to stop dividing so quickly
into such small pieces.

This delusion is not
brought on by problems with
peripheral vision
or a visceral puppy-love
such as that which plagued Cyclops.
Maybe his one eye required a contact lens
and he was born in the wrong era.

it is simple mathematics,
or, for this poem, anatomy:
if she were painted on the right
side of Raphael’s canvas and he on the left
the paint between them
must prevent contact,
the love, therefore, by all measurement, 
was bound by Platonism
or plate tectonics, i.e., layers
of linseed oil and earth pigment
but no fire.

He was a footnote in her wake.
From the second he saw her,
all plastic mirage and hootenanny,
he was doomed.

This should give us pause
before we make ‘Master-of-the-Universe’ type


Deriving From Linguistics

Feminism, Marxism, a few other tendencies I won’t mention
you dominated me for much of the time.
There you were, a structure that should have produced meaning
as opposed to being a meaning,

but there was no essential relationship.
For all your distinction and noble attempts,
like advertisements for Italian food that say “Eat me, sabroso
I felt nothing.

Like a mother pouring out breakfast cereal for a child,
or a tree, luxuriant, green and shady,
when we took the two curves of ourselves and joined them,
no image took hold. We could not make a fish.
Not even a subject or verb.


© 2002 Maria Cuervo

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