In Sodom, all the men were sinners, the women
all were wives. In Gomorrah, they gave in
to lust, and led unpious lives;
Lot was left alone to mourn the lewdest of the Hebrews
the ones who patronized gay bars, cruising for to be cruised.

A pillar of salt for Lot's Kingdom to come,
a pinch for his past lives. The Bible's
tawdry parables make infidels revive.
Incest was a grand guignol, a lark which fell begat
one Moab, one Benammi, but not a single Jehoshaphat.

It's Greek to me when daughters choose to diddle
with their fathers. Some punishment
should be the suite, else why in God's name bother?
Their mother, for one longing glance, got her ass converted,
yet no one thought to discipline the bona fide perverted.

Lord of their flesh our genes are formed, the sinner
and the martyr. Our history is made of men
whose transgressions make us harder.
The moral of this story has one uplifting notation:
in vino veritas, not to mention expiation.

Note: Moab and Bennami are the children of Lot's union with his daughters.
Jehoshaphat battled the "children of Moab" (2 Chronicals 20:10)

He repents now on his knees for me,
and prays release from the sin of me.
My wormwood end, my oily lips,
my satin G-string, Victoria's slips:

they once moved him to the frenzy
matrons feel when facing menses.
But afore the rake could plow the plot
of this lightly-salted child of Lot,

Before his hoe could sow my bed,
God repossessed his maiden head.
The Ten Commandments, the Seven Sins,
the Synod's sober bulletins!

Revelations! And those sermons
in voices loud as Ethel Merman's.
He shrank before my pink baptismal.
As if its hollow was abysmal.

Were I with him when he prayed,
I'd persuade him to get laid.
He'd be a pagan in my lair.
I'd make him eat my underwear.

What beast am I, which trickster's child,
to so pervert man meek, man mild?
My God, I'm a sinner. I love to burn.
I can't be done in just one turn.

Note: "For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is
smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. (Proverbs 5:3-4)

I won't control them now, Anger,
Betrayal, Confusion, and Despair,
the children of our love.
I won't shape or restrain them
or make them obey his laws.
Let them piss their legs in public.
I'm not ashamed of the bastards.
They've got the best of us.

I once wanted him to see laughing cherubs,
darling babies, sweetly soothed to sleep,
hoping he would lock the door
and make frantic love to me.
I trained them because men always flee
a woman's obnoxious progeny.

But I won't control them now,
the alphabet soup of our amour.
Their integrity is admirable:
they're rotten to the core.
I'm not ashamed of the bastards.
They've got the best of us.

Tonight, while I still have the courage,
before I succumb to the sentimentality
and opium of dreams. Tonight when art
is alive in me, and my beautiful thoughts
seem clear, and I feel strong and need
no one, no one to comfort me. Tonight,
when the memory of a man's rough hands
warming my flesh is a memory and not
an indictment, I will stop wanting you.


Outside a motel window an aspen fills with crows
(in the window a bird fills with trees;
dark span of a thousand centuries).
Every animal has an unrevealed history,
a secret romance, a craven heart.

The birds flock in threes and bond in pairs,
leaving odd birds out of ardent affairs.
Lovers can't wait for the loser to fail.
The perfect lover lives in a windowless room,
safe from the harm of doing.

The tree releases the flock like leaves.
The birds scatter on the ground, hungry thieves.
Inside the window, a trapped bird schemes,
blind-sided by a sense of destiny.
The past is close, closer than it seems.


When the storm clouds thunder in, finches cry.
They wing wildly for harbor in the pines,
taking sanctuary in flimsy nests.
A world below, we follow a well-worn path,
hiking to wear down our bitterness.

A mating pair of Muscovies calmly groom their wings.
Big birds are unfazed by loud, gusting winds
which break the lilies and plow the reeds.
But overhead swallows fly hard, racing
to safety, and calling to their families.

Sometimes, small birds are swept off course by storms;
forcibly carried to exile on foreign shores.
The storm is coming. You won't talk to me.
The birds are crying, in warning or goodbye,
but you are silent. We're already at sea.

Let's not look into each other's eyes or else
we'll see tenderness. It's called compassion,
those pangs that come once a passion's past.
Let's not speak of it, neither confess.
What's done is done and cannot be redressed.
We're not the sort to cry. We will make our bed.

A couple married long enough learn to make a bed.
Standing on either side, they synchronize the spreading
and smoothing of sheets and patchwork quilts
stitched by a stranger's hand. Side by side
and heel to heel, a couple make a bed.
They sleep in it and lie, and lie, and sleep.

Everyone's busy in my backyard.
Small citizens spring with enterprise,
urgently called by divine deadlines.
Incompetence is the dodo's prize.

Innately skilled to manage their lives
squirrels chat without tips from Carnegie,
crack nuts without Cordon Bleu degrees,
clean house without hints from Heloise.

The romantic sparrow builds three nests
to lure one fussy wife. The mayfly
copulates incessantly and dies.
So claw and wing and fur multiply.

Poor Gulliver. His brain's so great
he needs pornography to masturbate.

The neighbors' tom killed a mourning dove,
a dove whose mate lives in the yard.
Now his widow forages singly,
shrieking each time the cat appears.

My neighbor showed me the murdered bird,
tossed in the garbage can. She dumped it out
and asked, "Do you know what kind it is?"
We stared together at its silenced form.

With beak pressed into its cold chest,
feathers torn, it looked nothing like itself.
"It's a mourning dove." I trilled its song,
"Whoo-hoo-hoo." "I recognize that sound!"

I pointed to the female: "They mate for life."
My neighbor studied the grieving wife.
"Do you think she knows?" "Wouldn't you?"
We put the bird back in the trash.

Two couples in one house, we are loyal pairs.
The cat is odd-man out of human affairs.
The bonding instinct guides us through life's maze.
The cat brings us his kill and wants our praise.

Soon the garbagemen will take the mourning dove.
When his wife flies away, we'll feel small regret.
It's the murderer we love.
The murderer is our pet.

We pose for a group photograph,
a transient record of lives.
We link arms and celebrate
our ability to compromise.

We are not too chaste nor sober;
we tell lies without regret.
A drunken tryst in the closet
is our "Romeo and Juliet."

No one will speak of our sins
when a century has passed;
no one will care who we were
or grieve that we didn't last.

One day we will be warehoused
with history's detritus.
Our tragedies will seem unreal.
Dry textbooks will describe us.

So when a woman lifts her hand
to block the camera's flash,
and her falling sleeve exposes
camp numbers stamped on flesh,

we close our eyes. No one asks,
"Why do such horrors occur?"
Everyone rationalizes:
"Asking will only upset her."

But it's not for her sake that we turn
away, pretending we didn't see.
The evidence can't harm us
as long as it's concealed.

The last poem in this chapbook comes with an anecdote.

I've been working on this poem about artist Oskar Kokoschka's erotic obsession with his former mistress, Alma Mahler, for longer than I care to admit. It still isn't quite finished. Perhaps it never will be. But, in any case, I remain devoted to it despite (or perhaps because of) the odd reception it received from the late Joseph Brodsky, with whom I'd once studied. Though he truly was the most formidably intelligent and erudite person I've known, what I remember most was his wicked sense of humor.

For a few years, I lived on Morton Street in Greenwich Village, half a block from his place. Every so often, we'd bump into each other. Joseph invariable had a blonde-du-jour on his arm and, depending on how tightly she clung, would either nod at me smugly or pretend not to see me.

On one warm Saturday night during one of those years, I decided to visit a favorite after-hours haunt, an SM club called "The Vault." I zipped up my PVC catsuit, tied a small whip to my belt, and strapped on my high heels. Since I was teaching English only a few blocks away at New York University at the time, however, I prudently waited for the streets to quiet down, lest I meet one of my students and cause an existential incident.

A little after midnight, I stepped onto the deserted streets. No sooner did I get out the front door than I spied Joseph, strolling leisurely towards me with the de rigueur blonde on his arm.

I considered running. But my heels were actually stilettoes. What's a girl to do? I hoped this would be one of those times when Joseph chose to ignore me. But he advanced towards me rapidly, and I could tell this was not going to be one of those times. He stopped a few feet away, dramatically looked me up and down, threw his hands in the air, gave me a big smile and cried, "Congratulations, Gloria!"

I still don't know what exactly he meant by that.

But I digress. Intentionally.

So, to return to the subject at hand: around '88, I enclosed a copy of one of this poem's VERY early and very incomplete incarnations with a letter I sent him at Mt. Holyoke, where he was teaching. As a rule, I am queasy about sending people poems out of the blue--is life not tedious enough?--but since he was always so encouraging, and since he'd been my teacher, it seemed okay to show him some work in progress.

Apparently someone forwarded my mail to him because a few weeks later Joseph sent back a most peculiar card in an envelope postmarked London. The card showed a British World War II recruitment poster with a dimpled young woman dressed rakishly in a Navy uniform, and the words, "Gee, I wish I was a man!" printed beside her.

Gee, I wonder why Joseph....oh, never mind.

Inside the card, he'd scrawled a long and furious denouncement of "Kokoschka's Doll" and told me to tear it into little pieces. He closed with his usual affectionate valediction, said we should have coffee when he was back in New York, but please, not to send him any more poetry.

This was a surprise. I'm still not quite sure what upset him about the poem--though I hope it was the subject and not the verse itself that so unnerved him. At the time, I was certain he had decided I was a horrible writer. But, oddly, some months later he wrote me an incredibly nice letter of recommendation in which he talked about my courage in tackling difficult and controversial subjects.

In any event, while I felt a kind of strange pride that something I'd written had evoked such a strong reaction in so brilliant a man, let's just say that seldom were heard more discouraging words than the ones Joseph launched across the Atlantic. The poem languished, untouched, on my hard-drive for years.

When Joseph died suddenly in January 1996, I was so depressed that I impulsively returned to it and have been working consistently on it ever since. I've dedicated it to him too. I hope he's congratulating me in heaven.

Finally, a little background on this poem. A friend recently asked whether this story was true. Yes, it is. Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), was an Austrian-born British Expressionist painter who, in his youth, had an affair with the former wife of composer Gustav Mahler. Alma Mahler was perhaps best-known for bedding and wedding some of Europe's greatest artistic geniuses. When Alma left Oskar, the painter went literally mad. In his sexual frenzy, he commissioned a seamstress to sew a life-like replica of Alma, exact in all its anatomical details. The poor woman, confused and frightened by the artist's monomania, did the best she could do with the inadequate materials and finally delivered a monstrosity which, according to Oskar's biographer, bore little resemblance to Alma, much less to anything alive.

Despite his extreme disappointment, Oskar went ahead with his plans to treat this doll as if she were the real Alma, taking her with him wherever he went--and creating quite a scandal in Vienna. The incidents described in the poem--including the bizarre stag party and arrest--are all true.

Now, why do I think an artist's sadomasochistic erotomania for an unattainable love object is worth nearly ten years of my scribbling?

If you're on this site, you shouldn't have to ask.

For J.B

Kokoschka had a life-sized doll made in Alma [Mahler's] image...
it was intended to be as perfect a substitute as possible for
the person on whom it was based....If Alma remained beyond
Kokoschka's reach, her three-dimensional likeness would not be....
He left the craftswoman in little doubt about what he intended
to do with the doll...'Can the mouth be opened?' he asked, 'And
are there teeth and a tongue inside? I hope so.'

--from OSKAR KOKOSCHKA: A LIFE, by Frank Whitford


The world of the living's a dizzying kiss.
The world of the dead is a grocery list
of miscalculations and imperfect plans
that make great obsessions seem pedestrian.

When Alma was with him Kokoschka's machine
divinely revealed and denuded her spleen.
He dipped his paintbrush in her unfaithful heart,
expressing her life-blood to liven his art.

No rational creature will stay in the grasp
of rapacious artists. That vampiric clasp
scared Alma and drove her from divan to door,
no more the fair Muse, the good wife, or the whore.


Dear Alma is spreading her lips once again
to swallow the Empire's talented men.
She's gone, Oskar's dumped, it is over, kaput.
She's moved on to toot on another man's flute.
The woman is shameless. Why shouldn't she be?
Seduction's her art form and her destiny.

So Oskar conceives of the perfect mistress:
a surrogate sexual adventuress.
She goes with him everywhere. And when they dine,
she tacitly praises his choice in fine wine.
She never complains when the coq au vin's bad.
The Doll's as faithful as a Hamadryad.

Together they chart Wien's elite carrefours,
conspiring to kill Alma's new paramours.
The Doll can't be tempted by licentious curs
like Walter or Franz. She ain't Venus in Furs.
Her sex-drive disintegrates at lofty heights.
It's Oskar! O! Oskar! her stuff must excite.

The image he's made is so crudely correct,
the Doll's an homage to Real Alma's defects.
When he takes her home for a roll in the hay,
she primly refuses to say yea or nay.
She passively lies, like the Real Viennese
(the lady most likely to get a disease).

The Doll doesn't blink when he worships her feet.
She's frigid and brainless--but very discreet.
The beatings he gives her, the anger he vents,
attempting to rouse her to Alma's defense,
cannot move The Doll to betray her own sex--
which gives old O.K. yet another complex.

To Oskar's despair, she can't be satisfied:
her fabric grows weaker the harder he tries.
Kokoschka created a perfect keepsake
to repossess Alma. But she's not awake.
This effigy made to disgrace a temptress
has transmogrified into his tormentress.


When Oskar grew tired of his dummy love,
he rallied his friends to help him rise above.
He threw a stag party to bid her farewell:
part orgy, part sports event, part funeral.

He'd teach her a lesson on the holy rood!
If he couldn't have her then everyone would.
No poupee gonflable ever bore such a plight
or met darker ends on a lap-dancing night.

The purgative soiree at Oskar's house led
to the loss of doll limbs and doll tongue and doll head.
Passed man-to-man freely, Faux Alma dispensed
Ms. Mahler's free favors at half the expense.

She gave up her stuffing, her wig and her dress,
and writhed wantonly like a lewd Shakeress.
"A whore for my kingdom!" he toasted the bride,
then set her on fire and pitched her outside.

Oh Alma The Doll, primal doll, Queen of dreams,
although you were marred by a few ragged seams,
did you not earn something far better than this,
to be tossed aside like foreskin at a bris?

When neighbors saw Alma plunge from Oskar's sill,
her body in flames, her torn limbs flailing still,
they called the police who arrested O.K.
for murder (but charges were dropped the next day).


All artists are narcissists who smear their paints
between their legs, dreaming that they're martyred saints,
and narcissists never are slaves to their thirst.
They thrive on reflection and love themselves first.

When Oskar recovered, he went back to work,
controlling the cravings which made him berserk.
Though Art was the anodyne for his love-pain,
without l'amour fou Oskar's oeuvre was mundane.

The canvas once heated by her carnal form,
the voluptuary of "Tempest in Storm,"
got cold when he ended his joy-ride through hell:
his landscapes were sane (and quite boring as well).

Is there any moral attached to this tale?
Just one: kill a doll and you won't go to jail.
Or two: an obsession invariably leads
right back to the ego from whence it proceeds.

And, love, every love is banal. It's a lie
which starts with "My darling!" and ends with "Goodbye,"
and when it is over, nought's left but an ache
in the pants. (Which always leads to the next big mistake.)


Walter is Walter Gropius (the Bauhaus architect) and Franz is Franz Werfel (the author) with whom Alma Mahler (former wife of Gustav Mahler, the composer) had affairs after leaving Kokoschka.

Poupee gonflable is French for "inflatable doll" (of the sexual kind).

copyright © 1997 - 2000

Dr. Gloria Glickstein Brame

Reproduction or distribution of any of the
materials contained herein is strictly prohibited
by the laws governing intellectual property rights.