The National Poetry Review

Stephen Massimilla


Nothing to lean on in the living room.
Through the scrub brush and the fence
the sun is slumping. Swings rock
in the breeze, and roses nod
from their trellises.

Faceted flasks on the table
and diamond pendants of the chandelier
glisten silver and red.
I once told my wife
the story of Cupid, how he settled
by Psyche’s bedchamber at dusk

with an amber vial in his hand.
He was to pour that water on her skin,
to make her fall for a brute animal,
to pervert her love,
but when he drew the sheer curtain,
his destiny changed.

Her bed was an onyx cameo, and she was
nude, too ivory-pale, but more lovely than Galatea
and as still. When he crouched over her
and she opened her eyes, he knew he was fated
to betray his mother, to betray out of love
for a mortal.

My wife was impatient, I could tell
when she stiffened her jaw to conceal
her yawn. She just wanted to make me feel
that there was nothing impressive
I could say. If I had let her go to bed,
she wouldn’t have slept anyway.
And there is more:

Psyche later stepped into her fiancé Cupid’s chamber
after slipping through the lucent drapes of voile
that hung between the marble columns
of his home, his palace, high above
the ocean’s dark furrows.

When she cupped her palm
over the candle flame, her fingers filled
the room with what she imagined
were preternatural shadows.

Poisoned by the tales
of her envious sisters, she stalked in dread
of the darkness, suspecting that Cupid, her future husband,
was a monster, a deformity. But the moment

she lifted her hand, the flame
spurted in the wind, lit up the crescent
of the knife in her sash, and lit up Cupid—
brighter than a cloud at noon—asleep
on the griffon-legged couch. He seemed
to frame her name with his lips. But when
she crouched over him, a hot gout of wax

on the rim of her taper lost its opacity
and trickled to his skin.

He later said he would leave her
forever, that “love cannot dwell with suspicion,”

and yet he kept following her, redressing
her every mistake. He married that woman.

What I mean, I said, it is not the jewelry
I give you; not that it makes me pale to see you
with a brute.

Just now that we know
we are both vulnerable to a dagger
between the ribs, we can love each other

again. And again she said (the clouds
are on fire) she wanted to talk about
“alternatives.” But no, I said no, that is not
what I meant when I said
I would have followed her anywhere.

STEPHEN MASSIMILLA’s books include Frank Dark (Barrow Street, 2022); Stronger Than Fear (2022); Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo Press, 2016, Eric Hoffer Award, etc.); The Plague Doctor (SFASU Press Prize); Floors from Yesterday (Bordighera Prize, CUNY); The Grolier Poetry Prize; and others. Massimilla’s poems have appeared in hundreds of publications. He holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia and The New School.

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