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Wang Xiuying

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Ned

The three letters of his name
suddenly resurrect him,
lounging on some horizon,
much like the long corpse of Christ
in Michelangelo’s Deposition.

There was something ideal
about him: the naked male
of Greek stone, the Amazon
man about the jungle, face
and body matched, lone playboy in the sun –

Ned in his Jantzen swimwear
was spear-carrier as star.
He could speak, though. The word ‘drawl’
comes back, loaded with distaste.
Someone must have thought his tongue lacked control.

Far from it, memoirs tell us,
picturing in a criss-cross
of brown and white the relief
of long beauty: Ned screwing
his opposite, Someone’s ivory wife.

At Covent Garden in 1912

My heroes nearly shook hands. Oedipus
called from his altar: ‘Somebody come save us
and stop this pointed rain of illness.’

And Reinhardt sent down the aisles an enormous chorus
of Theban Citizens, hundreds I would guess
from the photos, and both sexes. In the crush

they carried to centre stage (not in Greek dress)
a struggling bald man of about seventy years.
Good Lord, it’s Henry James, cursing his tardiness.

But they’re singing: ‘O sweetly spoken Word of Zeus ...’
Quite a lot better than the rain of boos
he received last time. He looks up, amused.

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