"Reading Apuleius"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 5 2012 6:00 AM

"Reading Apuleius"

American Academy in Rome Library Main Reading Room, 1933.
American Academy in Rome Library Main Reading Room, 1933

American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive, AAR Memoirs Collection.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Karl Kirchwey read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes. 

                              for Corey Brennan

In 1933, midsummer,
            vexed by the ablative absolute,         
she looks toward the camera,
            behind her the dark oak wainscot

of the library reading room,
            two old maids standing at her side.
She has learned each colleague’s name
            as protocol and place demanded,

Faulsporn, Ogle, Solliman,
            Van Kulp, Keck, Queef: the fellowship,
gifted and dull. To her concern,
            her recent thought has seemed to slip.

Her husband is the Annual Professor,
            bespectacled, already bald,
in a light suit, not far from her.
            With one hand, she could touch and hold—

And certain Latin lines run riot
           (that girl with a firebrand between her thighs),
whenever she would concentrate
            (or the one who couples with an ass),

while figs are oozing in the garden:
            their burst sockets and rosy flesh,
mosquitoes at her ankles, noon …
            She muses, chin in hand. The wish

leads like the buttons on her sweater
            in a wayward diagonal
beyond the frame of this picture.
            Her smile is mocking, dreamy, carnal.

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Karl Kirchwey is the author of six books of poems, most recently Mount Lebanon, and of a translation of Paul Verlaine's first book of poems, as Poems Under Saturn. Professor of the Arts and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College, he is serving as Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome from 2010-13.