at Length

Tantalus in Love

—Alan Shapiro

An excerpt from “Tantalus in Love,” by Alan Shapiro

The nearness of it, the right-
there too-bright mocking
plenitude that leaps away
so teasingly each time
he grabs for it that every
time he can’t help think
this time he nearly got it,
he came so close, and so
he’s even hungrier,
more eager than before
to try again—
                          “Do you
still find me attractive?”

She doesn’t turn her head,
and as he waits, the camera
entertains him with
some recent clips
of how she lately,
whenever he goes to kiss her,
turns her face away
as if to fend him off
by offering the cheek
only, never the lips,
                  (that’s how it feels)
to let him kiss her there.
“So, do you?”
                          “Do I What?”
“Find me attractive?”
                                         She sighs,
and the scent of all he craves
woos him no matter where
he looks—
                      “What kind of question
is that?”
                  “A simple one.
Are you attracted to me?”
“We’ve been married 20 years.”
“Is that a yes or no?”
The lens widens to include
the late sun in the shot,
how it’s angling down
through trees through the window
to her shoulder, arm, and hand
all speckled over now
with bits of light and shade,
light quivering with shade
and shade with light,
                                          all swarming
in the agitated way
that cells swarm under
a microscope.
                            “I’m not
going to answer that.”
                “If you have to ask,
you wouldn’t understand
the answer anyway.”
“But I don’t understand…”
“My point exactly…”
“why you can’t just tell me
yes or no?”
                      “What if
my answer’s no?”
                                  “Is it?”
“This feels so coercive.”
“It’s a simple question,
yes or no.”
it isn’t a simple question.”

“Tantalus in Love” originally appeared in its entirety in the print version of At Length, which no longer exists. To read the whole poem, check out Alan Shapiro’s Tantalus in Love: Poems. A Kingsley Tuft Award- and Los Angeles Times Book Prize-winner, Shapiro is the author of nine books of poems, most recently Old War.

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