Leonard Nathan (1924-2007), a fine poet and translator who was an important figure at the University of Berkeley, California. I read a graphic poem about the oldest profession because I found something appealing in its language:
Lydia, you old whore
Loaded, pubic boys no longer tap
Your windows with their palms and beg the dark
To plump you naked on their knobby lap.
Your door, whose hinges squeaked to every title,
Hugs its threshold since cold cash is laid
On nothing wrinkled or drooping in the middle.
No brat shouts how he’ll die or go insane
Unless you open up, and no old cocker
Whines for Lydia because she’s smooth and clean.
Poor bitch at the alley’s pissing end alone,
While dew-backed children beat the sweaty bush,
Indifferent as the neuter starving moon.
Whispers, fingers, crotches sliding in,
And all that money changing naked hands,
And you so old mere living is a sin.
The Internet gave me a Hemingway quote: “Death is like an old whore: I’d buy her a drink but I wouldn’t go upstairs with her”. Okay, what have we here?
Odes. I.25: Parcius iunctas quatiunt fenestras / iactibus crebris iuvenes protervi.
The beginning is almost a literal translation of Horace. I am not going to study Horace here, I want to stay with Nathan. Knobby lap is funny, and the way Nathan builds up the imagery with pornographic precision where Horace resorted to a moralistic message – I like it. Something wrinkeld or drooping in the middle: her breasts! All lovers, brats and cockers alike, are gone and she is a poor bitch in the alley’s pissing end, a creative departure from Horace’s Invicem moechos anus arrogantis / flebis in solo levis angiportu.
Now it seems children have taken over from her. I’m not sure but I don’t wanna know. Crotches sliding in and money changing naked hands? Naked hands is interesting, if you are completely naked and vulnerable as a young prostitute, maybe it is your hands that feel most naked. And the money shot “you so old mere living is a sin” – okay, so we can’t find redemption in this life? What did Nathan want to tell us here?