A superhero has a particular skill—
impervious to bullets, good with webs, etc.—
a particular flaw,
Veiled Lady’s gig is disguise;
Her flaw: susceptibility to love.
Coo in her ear,
and she’ll go anywhere.
Mascara eyes, she teases,
shows a little cleavage,
calligraphy on the shoulder,
she plays peek.
All you ever see, all you ever get, are
Kiss her sacred thighs,
and tell her you love her.
Woo and praise, you can never win her;
she’s nobody’s trophy.
She moves by addition.
Division doesn’t work on her.
You can’t cut or dissect her;
she’s all whole.
Number knows her,
but number as embroidery,
not as knife,
number as part of her gown.
“Rather, we say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality, and that relatively independent behaving parts are merely particular and contingent forms within this whole.”
– Theoretical physicist David Bohm
Dennis Lee used to talk about “neck poems,” the kind of poem you’d write if a noose were around your neck and you had time for only one more utterance.
“Neck poems” seem to be a variation on Samuel Johnson’s famous quip: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
“Our Lady of the Veils” is my neck poem, my about-to-be-hanged poem. It’s all I know about the world.
In prose, it goes like this: there is a feminine principle at work in the universe; it grows, it gives birth, it sustains. Our principal way of knowing, and acting, in the world comes through number, through mathematics—the foundation of science, engineering and so much else. Number organizes music and announces the rhythm of the human heart.
For many years I’ve sought a possible way to connect number to the feminine principle and failed. I’ve written dozens of drafts of my poem over the last 17 years – none to my satisfaction. I began with many pages and have now settled on a page. My wife thinks that I’ll end up with a haiku. If that’s the destiny of “Our Lady of the Veils,” I’ll be happy. To have three lines that make the connection between number and the feminine clear and memorable would give me immense pleasure.
In the meantime, I live with my failures.