Spring 1997 • Vol. XIX No. 2 PoetryApril 1, 1997 |

Baksheesh

Flaubert in Cairo breathed the sun. "I inhale the vastness and the calm," he wrote, walking to the baths alone. His lover, Max, describes how a boy of fifteen took the head of a black snake wrapped around his body and kissed it, "spat into its mouth," until it went stiff as an ebony carving. Max nowhere mentions Gustav in his book. But he tells us how, after he invited the young charmer to his room, the boy took his hand hard, twisted the snake around the thick French wrist, then lifted its dangerous pronged head to the expectant head, hissing strange words "rapid and staccato," and, after the snake had bit the writer's ear, spread the blood on the dirt and rubbed the wound with a spit-smooth, bloody palm, then "breathed twice into my mouth," or so Max, in Steegmuller's translation, says. (For language needs translation just as much as snakes need taming by strange syllables, and syllables need words to make them whole.) When this was done, he begged, baksh

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