From an unreleased poem called “rehearsal for a sonnet on your body”:
Were I a priest I’d lay you open
like a rite and stretch you out across
church conversation. I would translate
every limb of you from my mother tongue
to Latin, Greek, Greek orthodox. I’d mouth
your arms as I would Sunday saints in sermon;
sword and three-pronged spear to frighten
newer converts and the little criminals.
My lips would linger
on your mouth in word only, but with such
words devout parishioner has yet to hear. My
tongue would curve and turn at talking of the
coil and curvature and kindness of your tongue.
Were I a cardinal, a pope, a bishop used as pawn
I’d do you as a final prayer, then tucking you
beneath my arm be gone from church and
catechism contradiction and the dawn.
In the NYT obit the reporter wrote: “For a generation of Americans at midcentury and afterward, Mr. McKuen’s poetry formed an enduring, solidly constructed bridge between the Beat generation and New Age sensibilities.” I’d see the volumes at Waldenbooks, not far on the shelf from Susan Polis Schutz; their patterns I’d seen on beach towels and doilies, the detritus of seventies fashion. Sneering at Leonard Cohen’s songs in McCabe & Mrs Miller, John Simon said they were “Rod McKuen for the semi-literate” or something (that’s how I remember it). To an aging daddy-o freshly married and divorced from Mia Farrow, covering an album of his songs sounded like a good idea, at least as much as Nehru jackets and love beads. The material appealed to men and women in their thirties, too old for the decade’s convolutions yet ready to embrace pop art steeped in counterculture values and encased in sturdy, recognizable forms. Rod McKuen, in other words, invented the seventies.