By RAFAEL CAMPO
The neon strokes of Chinese characters
exclaimed the ancient city’s endlessness.
Beijing at night: how much we cannot know,
how little we will ever understand.
For supper, jellyfish and giant clam,
profundities we couldn’t contemplate;
and afterwards, the acrobatic show
in which a tiny woman log-rolled you
(compliant “dear guest” from the audience)
teeteringly in an enormous urn,
her stocky legs splayed heavenward as if
she’d given birth to spectacle itself.
Arriving at the club, our hosts seemed pleased
our drunken acquiescence to their plans
allowed them to go on delighting us.
Your nakedness as we undressed seemed new,
redemptive and miraculous again,
the marble dressing room at once austere
and sexual, our hairy bodies crude
amidst the sallow skin of Chinese men.
We put on skimpy bathrobes made of silk,
then padded down a mirrored corridor
past fake Venuses, and velvet-covered doors
whose mysteries we left inviolate.
the night’s adventure would be ending here.
The girls were not beautiful. Clad in white,
they kept their firm caresses to our feet:
the scent of almond oil mixed with sweat,
their long black hair in loosely woven braids,
we wondered what price had been paid for them,
and whether we could be forgiven for
if only briefly thinking of forsaken
Mary Magdalene, suffering as much
for our same sins. If what we felt was shame
it was impossible to speak; if it
was grace, it remains imponderable.
Rafael Campo teaches and practices general internal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston; he also teaches in the creative writing program at Lesley University.