Bonnard Aria

by Sharon Olds

It wasn’t a date, I don’t know what we were
doing there at MOMA together,
I don’t know which painting we were standing in front of –
gilded, plump, wiggle-lipped cream-pitcher,
ladies’ hair like naked-lady
nether-hair, and the most erotic
light I had seen, I was nineteen, I turned
and kissed his mouth and held him. His eyebrows
went up, he was gorgeous, a grad student, almost
silent, I didn’t know about such things,
he was seriously depressed, young darling – to me then like
an older man, twenty-four,
big and graceful. His face opened and we
took the old hot filthy summer
subway to his small, dark
apartment with its single bed.
I told him I couldn’t really sleep with him,
he did not seem to mind. This was the
first time I had watched and felt
a naked penis grow. And it happened
that he had a big penis, not so
big as to be scary, but it had a solemn
majesty, a sublimity,
I felt I could have fainted – the sweetest
most moving thing I had seen. Standing
for no one but himself, standing not even
for himself, representing no one, nothing,
he welcomed me to our nakedness
where the painful apartness of our genderedness
was tenderly relieved, with intimate grandeur.
How many months, or years later
did he make his way off the earth,
out of his life, pulling his life out
after him, destroying the breath and
motion of the evidence.
I had never thanked him – I have never thanked him.
How can I thank him. The closest I can come
is by giving something – anything –
to someone else – to anyone.