fall/winter, '06-07 , no. 8



His Lifelong Study of Women



He collected arcane

Examples of suffering,

Pinned and mounted them

In his butterfly display case.



Not really the right question,

But to answer it will not

Take us overly far from the scope

Of this sequence.


He appreciated the apparent rigor

Of the scientific method, but he

Could not finish anything

Satisfactorily before the grandkids

Interrupted his labeling.


If he writes, it is a good day.


Catching snatches of television

Over the shoulders of others

He has begun to think

Of American culture

As a series

Of people plucked from obesity.

These anointed ones

Dance and sing,

Look good in closeup.

Other contestants must be banished

All in good fun.


Today is a good day.

Writing outside the Hungarian Cafť,

Watching and listening to Columbia

Students rehash his conversational memory

From thirty years ago

When civil rights organizers

Gathered in sawdust taverns

After running voter drives,

And he slept his way

Through the secretaries.



Celibate now

In the third decade

Of a selfish marriage,

He replays each woman

From his twenties and thirties,

When he still believed

His life would be an unbroken

Series of sexual adventures.


Examples of suffering

From his life remain

Uncollected, for he seeks

Mythic suffering, epic suffering,

Eyes torn out, bleeding,

Unaccommodated suffering

Acted out or spoken

In an expressive fashion.


One uncollected example

Of his suffering would be

His longing for a woman

Of average to below-average

Beauty to find his subtle

Use of puns irresistible,

To melt when she hears him

Read limericks he had written

In his retirement.


In fact, the unsatisfiable pervert

In his brain

Dreams up composite female

Characters in as-yet

Unwritten novels

Who wish to be ravished

In response

To his clocklike tumescence.

He knows such phantoms are dangerous

In their inhuman willingness to please

Without ulterior motive,

But he canít break himself

Of imaginationís habit.

He has understood

Since early adolescence

That women were not made

Specifically to satisfy men

But he still canít get over

How a woman breathing,

Reaching, readjusting

Can attract his undying

Attention, can become

An unwitting member

Of his fantasy pantheon

For lustful decades.


He became who he was by degrees.

His sense of women did not develop

In isolated wonder.

He knew their shaved

And unshaven armpits

And the moles next

To their pudenda.

He ate with them

At all hours of the day.

He listened to each

For a long time

Asking concerned questions.

He often said

An unintelligent woman

Could not be beautiful

And sought out many women

Smarter than he was

And more committed to the cause.

Almost without exception,

They proved to be

Extraordinarily hygienic.


He stopped trying to remake

Those women willing to sleep

With him after a few bad experiences

Where his arrogant belief in art

Trapped him into unintended results.


The grandkids need to be taught limits.


Some women whom he made a practice

Of listening to talked of their lovers.

These women invariably saw him as a friend

Offlimits to sex but not offlimits to flirting.

These women combed his mind

Looking for clues

Involved in a lifelong study of men.


He knew how to blur

A woman into perfection

And was entirely

Aware of how foregrounding

One part of a body

Objectified the whole person,

But he was of the generation

That found feminism

Unconvincingly unsexy.


When he was a graduate student

But even as a retiree

His interest in a glimpsed breast

As a woman bent

To pick up her crying child

Or to encase her dogís shit

In a plastic baggie

Remained unashamedly everpresent.


He did not know how to deal

With his mother as a woman.

She was lonely most of his life.

When she died,

He felt as if he had lost

The one love of his life

And watching the coffin

Lowered into the claydirt hole

He wondered

Not for the first time

Why society placed such

A taboo on the consummation

Of love between a mother and a son.


His wife was fit.  Not just for her age

But always.  He was not.

The opposition of these two world views

Represented a good deal

Of their difficulties.

She ignored him

Unless she were engorged

A week before menstruation.

He ignored her

Whenever he fantasized

As a kind of secret revenge,

But any woman

Over time

Would have grown uninterested

In satisfying

His prodigious desires,

Or so he rationalized

In the insomniac winter

Of his days

When flashes of willing

Partnered flesh repeat.

Any of the many

Who had shown enthusiasm

In a brief episode

Would have wilted

Over time, grown up,

Grown more inward and

More aware of yoga

And local reading groups.

Only he seemed incapable

Of growing into

A peaceful second act,

A less sexed existence.


He did not know if

Other men similarly suffered.

He only studied women.


And the few times he talked to men,

He was playing cards with them

Or throwing bocce balls

In their general direction

Which tended to cut down

On serious discourse.


So he was left with his prejudices

And his insights

On a folding chair

On a summer evening

In his blue work pants

Held up by suspenders

Over a white t-shirt.


He was lately unsure of more things

Than he had ever thought he knew

About himself, but he was feeling

That much more confident about his

Theories of the feminine,

Except that this surehanded insight

Blossomed only really after

It could no longer be personally harvested.


He did not observe young women

Primping, prowling, yearning

Unabashedly in the streets

Until he was no longer

Male in their eyes,

Too old to do much but mind

More males of the species

Who would most likely

Be as mystified as he was

Through most of his reproductive years.


    ........................................... Steve Mounkhall


Stephen Mounkhall teaches English at Scarsdale High School in Westchester County, New York.  He has been published in the following journals: American Letters and Commentary, Columbia Poetry Review, First Intensity, Mudfish, Murmur, No Roses Review, and Whatever. Online, his work has appeared in alyric mailer.  For several years, he was co-curator of Dactyl's poetry reading series. In 2000, Editions Donc Alors put out his chapbook In The World's Way

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