Baudelaire - Mike Alexander

Damned Women

By guttering lamplight’s wan rays
over cushions pregnant with fragrance,
Hippolyta mused on the forceful embrace
that had lifted the curtain of her innocence.

Her eye, tempest-troubled, she sought
naiveté’s already distant sky,
as a traveler turns his head to plot
blue horizons that have passed away.

Her defeated stupor, her dreary splendor,
eyes awash with wearied tears, arms
tossed wide like empty weapons in surrender,
all aided, all adorned her fragile charms.

Sprawled at her feet, calm, full of joy,
Delphine beamed ardently from underneath,
a strong animal keeping watch on her prey,
after having marked her with her teeth.

Strong beauty on her knees before the frail,
superb, she stretched voluptuously, & sniffed
the wine of her triumph, deigning to kneel
as if to pluck a sweet thank-you gift.

In her pale victim’s eye, she pursued
the mute canticle of pleasure’s cry
& the sublime, the infinite gratitude
that parts the eyelids like a sigh.

“Hippolyta, say what this arouses.
Understand now, one must not offer
the sacred holocaust of your first roses
to be scourged by a breath much rougher?

“My kisses are ephemeral as those of evening
mayflies caressing great transparent lakes
while those of your lover would carve, harrowing
like chariots or plowshares, their stakes;

“They’ll trample over you as pitiless
as a harnessing of horse or hoofed calf,
Hippolyta, my sister, turn your face,
My soul, my all, my all, my other half.

“Turn to me your azure eyes full of stars,
for one of those charming looks, a godsend,
I’ll raise the veil on yet more hidden pleasures,
& lull you to dream a dream without end.”

But Hippolyta then, lifting her young head:
“I do not repent, I am not ungrateful,
my Delphine, I suffer, & am disquieted,
as after a terrible, nocturnal meal.

“I feel a frightful weight in fast pursuit,
black troops of scattered phantoms sweeping down
to carry me away by a shifting route,
cut off from all else by bloody horizon.

“Have we done something so pestilential?
Explain, if you can, my fright & my distress:
I tremble whenever you call me your angel,
my mouth moving all the while toward your kiss.

“Don’t look at me that way, my dearest wish,
I love you, my sister, by my own volition,
even if you had been set for me in ambush,
the beginnings of my perdition.”

Delphine, shaking her curls with a tragic poise,
& as if stomping on an iron pedestal,
answered with fatal glare & despotic voice,
“Who dares before Love to speak of hell?

“Cursed be whatever useless idiot
first decided in his stupidity,
enamoured of an unanswerable knot,
to confuse the affairs of love with morality.

“He who wants to join in one mystic form,
shadow with heat, night with day, it is enough,
that he will never, in his paralysis, warm
his body by that red sun we call love.

“Go, find yourself a mindless fiancé,
offer to his cruel kiss your virgin heart,
you’ll return to me, remorseful, grey,
& stigmatized, breast torn apart.

“One can satisfy but one master, down here.”
But the child, venting her boundless miseries,
cried suddenly, “My soul, I feel widening there
a yawning abyss; my heart is that abyss.

“A volcano burning, deep as the void, accursed!
that groaning monstrosity nothing could
assuage, nor ever quench that Fury’s thirst
which, torch in hand, burns within the blood.

Let us close the curtains against all else,
let weariness at long last bring us rest.
let me in your embrace say my farewells,
& find the grave’s coolness at your breast.”

Descend, descend, lamentable victims,
descend the path of everlasting hell.
plunge to the deepest pit where all crimes,
flagellated by an unholy gale,

all helter-skelter, stormily rummage.
Mad shades, dash toward the end you treasure;
yet nothing you find shall assuage your rage,
& your punishment shall be born of your pleasure.

No sunshine shall ever brighten your caverns;
through vents in the cave walls, feverish fumes
shall filter like so many flaming lanterns
& lance your bodies with frightful perfumes.

Your orgasm’s bitter sterility
shall parch your throat as it toughens your skin,
& the fury-bound gusts of carnality
lash your flesh, like a flag, old & thin.

Far from the living, wanderers, criminals,
across desert wastes you course like wolves;
obey your destiny, disheveled souls,
fly the Infinite you carry in yourselves.

Translated by Mike Alexander

Seven Towers Ltd will publish Mike Alexander's first full-length collection, The Necessary Slice, in 2012. His chapbook, We Internet in Different Voices (Modern Metrics), is available through EXOT books. His poems have appeared in River Styx, Borderlands, Bateau, Abridged, Barefoot Muse, Shit Creek Review, Raintown Review & other journals. He has recently joined the board of Mutabilis Press.