Poetry: Julia | clivejames.com
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(Daughter of Augustus & perhaps one of Ovid's lovers)

The art of loving?
Please — I taught him
all he could ever need to know.
The unmentioned dedicatee:
for Christ's sake Julia,
for Christ's sake. Think how,
the first time I was named,
each syllable must have been held,
tried out on my father's tongue,
un-politic consonants and vowels,
like runes or pebbles found
and clutched in a child's hand.
Even I like their weight and sound.

I was only ever free when safely loaded
with a husband's cargo,
so I loved with a beating heart
and a stomach stretched like a drum,
on the wall a concave shadow —
can't we lose the lights?
He'd pinch each flame, and never flinch,
and as the wicks still hissed,
relight them one by one.
Still — I'd rather have been, then,
something closer to this lithe,
lessening thing, my stomach caving in.
Hollow in the hollow days,
I walk on the beach, and on its edges,
stop to write my name — skinny slanting Js
and Ls and Is that slowly disappear.

I'll leave you with a vision
on which we can all agree:
a room by the river, a window open,
the snake-hipped Tiber slung across
the streets, lights that on this last night,
stay on for hours. And a treeful of birds,
not one with the courage to beg to differ —
fooled, they sing in the dawn, at one
and two and three, too soon, for Christ's sake,
not yet. If I could have kept anything,
it would have been the sight,
tight in his arms, I'd always
twist my neck to see: not yet, not yet,
again and again and never too soon,
the way his face would crumple,
a discarded page.