Boys of the Lamp

Cheri? In the beginning he was just a little, gingery-haired fellow with one shoulder slightly lower than the other, pinkish eyelashes, a weak right eye, and a perpetually running nose.

-Colette, Earthly Paradise


Try to imagine the three naked
porcelain boys cavorting on the lamp
from her celebrated view. They are not
babies and not girls, breastbones hard
and broad as wooden coat hangers,
sharp little bisque roses packed
among their welter of shoulders, knees
and fists of drapery. Two sit on the back
of the third, and all look out of the lamp’s
frilled trunk in a concentrated gaze
as if the desk before them offers
a view of talking monkeys, somersaulting
otters or a mound of busy ants. The lamp
is old, and the welts of porcelain
carved with grime give the boys
a feral touch. It’s possible to turn
the lamp around and around, to lower
one’s face to the place where the boys’ gaze
goes. But is it possible to carve one’s eye
along the porcelain thigh of a naked child
and take the right kind of pleasure?
What must the maker of the lamp
have wanted as he dragged his knife
through the clay, freed each chubby
toe and dimpled knee? How did he decide
which boy would be most rapt,
muscles cocked to launch
at whatever he regards and in regarding
wants? They said she was not immoral
but amoral and celebrated this, not words
but worlds that won’t translate.
These boys would, therefore, not
be decorative. The eye would follow
the marvel of their white flanks and accept
active desiring hardened into the fired
translucence of the desired. Like the rag
of cobweb that clings to one child’s armpit
or the grime that follows every white swell
of bisque, the eye she would have cast on them
was no more or less than the one she’d cast
on bundled summer glads, spicy cassoulet,
or the ruddy apple pulled from someone else’s tree.

Front page image by John Gibson.

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