Orpheus Looks for a WC in Vilnius
And finds he must descend two flights
to reach the urinal. His bladder’s full
soon to spasm from gulped shots
of Three Nines. He’s been wandering
through the Jewish Sheol with his
ex-pat friend who points out
the coded phantasms that surface
on apartment walls and storefronts
and the bearded bust of the stern Gaon,
Talmudic Master whom even the Catholic
peasants feared would expel God
from their kitchens and beds.
Orpheus is reluctant to descend
(and not for reasons you think)
he’s done with rigged dating
games and trials he’ll never win.
But here he is in Vilnius, unasked,
on behalf of his protégé Czeslaw Milosz
to haul the poet’s friends and forebears
back to life, momentarily.
This place is as good as any
to enter, beneath this packed café
where piss does not overpower
the scent of root rot and chanterelles.
Ransacking the Library
I stole them from the 10th floor reading room,
Where even grad students avoided crates
Of books transported there—the ex-department
Chair’s unshelved stash, a week after he died
From AIDS, the epidemic’s early days.
Each book illuminated with his notes
(penciled, sideways, and miniscule) from his
Own grad school stints in Berkeley and Austin.
Fear that the virus lurked within the pages
Left the collection practically intact.
All but the ones I slipped beneath my shirt,
Protruding from my jeans, I had to hug
Myself to keep them in, as I recalled
His Dallas drawl outside my office door
Always quoting Milton, how he believed
His blindness was precipitated by
A fart suppressed, who wrote of women as
A thick, intoxicating potion, who
Believed that only male virgins would taste
The glories of heaven, immortal marriage
Where song and sound of lyre mingle in ecstasy
With dances, where the festal orgies rage.
I read each book with care, and grabbing more
Each day. My officemates remained
Oblivious and uninfected by
My pillaging, the stacks a desktop hazard.
I knew that others also craved
Those titles, afraid to touch—a translation
Of Plutarch from which Shakespeare stole his plots
(Jaded Mark Antony aching over
An aging Cleopatra, no romance, heartbreak.)
The first I took—the one that stays with me,
A medieval treatise on virtue
That explicates the three stages of sin:
Suggestion, then delight, and last, consent.
Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex and Walk Like Bo Diddley. Living in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his new verse translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz were both published in 2018. Craniotomy appeared in 2019. He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens College in Ohio. www.leonardkress.com