—for Livia Kohn
The valley spirit never dies:
so says Lao Tzu.
The purpose of the valley is to express
a monument of survival.
As you walk the boulevards of Tijuana it is not unheard of
to see prostitutes in doorframes.
You can find this image in public films as well—
some women avert their gaze
as the camera passes—
the river shapes the valley with the energy of shame.
This will be my first poem like a sex-worker—
not at work in bed, but on the street—
and the camera must cut like a channel of water,
as moral as a cat.
My first reading in a Tijuana newspaper is about
an abducted child—
his mother is an addict who must have fled with him to the capital,
his father says hopefully.
And the second is an article about a presentation
at the university
of the work of a poet on the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
The dark enigma of which Lao Tzu speaks—
we said in the liturgy of my youth, too:
let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
An unbearable mystery:
in every imaginable film he would be found.
What have we made of the unbearable—
God’s will, monarchs, genres of the night.
Sadness, post-coital melancholia—
of the hollows of eros;
I don’t think you can imagine your way to them,
nor can I,
in such a way, know the fear and contempt that are the trials
of the prostitute this afternoon in Tijuana,
and to try is a test of the health of my sense of humanity
in a strange game—
looking for a moment across the fence—my culture calls literature.
Scripture may have something to temper the act of risk
at play in empathy.
Buddha says to desire is to suffer;
Taoism says to find out li, the sandy erotic pattern in the grain.
Taoism is without the idea of fallen sexuality
and carnal sin.
It has its versions of the Kama Sutra and recommendations
for sexual yoga,
and for a child of Catholicism in a Puritanical culture
it gives room for hope
that the body could be loved as the body is.
And yet the focus of those texts seems often to be
on stealing or retaining
one’s qi, the vital energy and life force that produces longevity,
than which there is no higher good in Taoism.
So there is too a coercive element
to Taoist teachings on sex—
only corrupt silence on the subject of pure pleasure there too.
The discourse of pleasure reminds me of college
where everyone the age I am now
seemed to be despondent about Reagan and to be getting a divorce,
sleeping with students, too.
The aspiration to pleasure brought the peaceful defeat of the good,
hardly anything more.
And that dark place reminds me of
returning as a ten-year-old
from a family trip to a cabin at Lake Michigan
to find that a group of teenagers had broken into our home
and stolen my thousands of pennies from my room—
I remember the police, their forensic white dust
on revealed fingerprints,
some of them the transgressors’ and some of them mine.
Brian Glaser had published two books of poems, The Sacred Heart and All the Hills. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Literary Imagination and many other journals. He has also published more than twenty essays on poetry and poetics and is professor of English at Chapman University in Orange, California.