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The Lover

Read by Julie Carter

— A film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1992
Excerpts from Marguerite Duras

The shuttered room a mind’s throw
from the truant girl flashing sequined heels

linen and lipstick oxcarts
fried bread
the Chinese district
her body as shorthand
for what his body mistook for love —

you knew the lovers would fail but nothing stops
the double-timed insouciance

leaving mother and brothers
a blindsight the plantation

hammered to its slant foundation.

The victrola’s fox trot one more static to bear.

Because hunger traced the Mekong.
Because water broke
the salt-row harvest.

Because wind fluttered the girl’s neckline

Indochina minted on your tongue.

Marguerite Duras wrote there are no seasons in that part of the world …
no spring, no renewal

no sound for the girl’s hand releasing the rail,
the ferry an image you held in that humid air.

Fortune. Fever.

The lover twice her age. In the colony

The alley patterned the wall in submarine blooms.

The girl returned
to the bachelor’s room,
her body betraying its grammar,
the bone rose, the notched zero.

1929 Saigon
rehearsed the girl

for the canopy viewed
from the footbridge:

his wedding
silk brocade.

Whiffs of burnt sugar drift
into the room, the smell of roasted peanuts,
Chinese soups, roast meat,

herbs, jasmine, dust, incense, charcoal fires,
they carry fire
about in baskets here,

it’s sold in the street, the smell of the city
is the smell of the villages
upcountry, of the forest…

Marguerite was the French girl
writing the snaked road / scent swarming /
limbs slickened with resins / the lover raising
a palmful of water / after love
you enter and leave / you leave writing
it was already too late.

Out of lung sacs.
Out of blood. Mosquito nets.
Out of mornings in Sa Dec
the glamour of the girl
grew separate from the house
flooded with voices

the river’s clockwork sunburned trees
the scissors inside her singing the sea, the immensity…

Karen Rigby received a 2007 literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Savage Machinery, her second chapbook, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Festival Bone is available from Adastra Press. “The Lover” was recently selected by guest editor Mark Strand for inclusion in Best New Poets 2008.