Marthe Reed



mathematics arose from the awakening of the human soul
                                                                       --Malba Tahan

where am I?
like her

the work holds out a mirror

a diabolical, a magic square
the “repercussions of an enigma”

counting the narratives or courting desire
a space is opened

a refrain

a body composed of arched vaults, of columns and galleries
lined by Ishtar’s lions

any gate

holding my breath won’t do
each summation a replication of the last

like Amytas’ garden
hopscotch performed as an equation

ameliorates doubt (persia’s
allure, an incontrovertible

a coda of strewn flowers

the exact number of terraces and roofs, matter and limitation
undone by fire

Berosus’ astronomy (another

an insignificant aberration

less precise than sigma and more illusive
the same stars in the same night sky

I inhabit the margin



 “curtains of gold brocade, wrought with pearls and jewels”


a world, itself already fiction

a reader
 a “self”

she is wrought in jewels also


a door opening two ways
two worlds

an infinite regress


his tongue fails to picture her beauty

the possibility
of loss


a jeweled box
a fabric of texts
cup of possibility

perfect in beauty
and serenity


1001 reflections

desire borne along a
a fictional skein

the shape death acquires



Of Three Apples

A language game: Report whether a certain body is lighter or darker than another.
                                                                                    –Ludwig Wittgenstein


Or more freighted by sin

She was always so

A narrative of garden, idyll beneath a tree

You wait for her there

Though she refuses delimitation, departure a confusing disarray

She allowed the kiss

Knew innately the secret codes

A simple cutting away of extremity

And sought his death

In the vocabulary of love

Who was she after all

A conceit

The gardener sold him apples – a betrayal – for which, alas, she had already lost her taste

Circuit of despair

He is wounded

Her fever lapses, a matter of irrational order

Object of desire

She no longer yearns for him

When you return the apples are reduced to two, another fevered kiss

She cannot be relied on

An order of servitude in which she must occupy the least rung

She cuckolds him

An invented narrative

Keeping the complicity of the black slave in mind

Of narrative and desire

She is murdered

Like the apples, there is more to the tree than is implied

Is there room in the narrative for the catalog of pieces into which she is carved

Of knives

To whose garden do we refer

Her knowledge of love yet another conceit

Hidden in a tree, brothers and kings they descend to make love to the girl

They can hardly be blamed

The apple of his eye and an inexplicable absence

What is it the djinn guards

She was “beautiful”

Her body a cipher of proliferating, incomprehensible signs

Hacked to pieces

Reaching always, inevitably, toward something else

Your sighs understandable

She is cast into the Tigris

Both young and beautiful

The enigma linking narrative and death

A woman or a slave or both


What of the apple

Progressing from deceit to knowledge

The number of slaves proliferates

Though unseen and like light, the flesh of the apple is white

Her white—

A slave

In your hand, a bloodied knife




A sequence of thefts or disfigurements :: slave-wife amputating his thumbs, his great toes.  His forfeit cock

A glimmering sign suspended in the gap measuring the distance between language and death :: cascade of preferments, punishment

Possessing both object and purpose, an “unreasonable effectiveness”
She desires the slave and beds him

A profligate and a sister-killer

A dream

Difference poses itself between “sense” and “non-sense”
            A neat bisection

Transgressive taste for black men, for the Ethiopian tongue
Simultaneously master and slave

An object of exchange

Desire’s limit
A function of curving space, unbound

A sword, a serpent, a vulture.  Wolf, cock, finally a whale.  Fire.  His bewilderment.  A knife engraved with Hebrew words


Or an aleph

The old woman instructs him in the rites of purification

A coterie of pleasures or wiles “you must know”, though her knowledge composed entirely of mischief

An aberrant form
Body of the beloved, breast of the wet-nurse

Desire mapped against power :: a girl, black eyes and black hair, “rubied lips”.  She reduces him to slavery



The deflection of narrative-structure

A recitation of verses, eroticism’s throbbing violence
She renders him powerless

A tearful girl, a lure, an ogress :: parable of the sultan’s “ugly little fellow”

An accident or image of death

An agent of injury
Of coloured fish and mountains, the number 4, “nothing much”

Herself a talking knot

A subset of topological space, of convergences and continuity
Idolatry unforgivable

Longing’s compression


A mouth pressed to ground

A pair of black bitches and a beautiful wife, the loss of his hands or his feet
He is wounded

She, the boundary or limit against which he cannot escape

“a circular form of speech”

A theorem of incompleteness or conjecture :: she assigns her wealth to her husband and wastes away

A word





Slave of desire


At the feet of the king, her body “less and worse than nothing”.

She incites his desire.
Blue walls of the bedchamber a border of the chronicle she narrates.

He takes her to bed.


In response to such bluntness, we must enter by force of imagination.  The site of desire.

Amber and cinnabar rugs pillow the floor. 

Wine poured from a silver ewer.

The hunt, a prayer, a garden, threaded texts of a loom lining the room.

We become dizzy with delight.  What was she saying?

Master and slave abandon their accustomed roles, one finger tracing the circumference of his eyes, his lips, the curve of an ear.

He lies back into silk, unresisting, pleasure subsuming itself.

She kisses his ear, the heat of her tongue whispering perilous delight.  He cannot move.

Like a muezzin’s blessings, her hennaed nails prick his erect flesh, woman and scheming inseparable.  What will she awake?

The narratives bend upon themselves, refusing closure. 

“A cup of wine, oh beloved?”  He cannot answer, grief and desire stuff his mouth.

She dips her fingers into the cup, tipping each in gleaming carmine light, falling like rain upon his mouth.

“I shall tell you a story”, and still he does not or cannot speak.

A tailor, a hunchback, a bite of fish, a cunning wife.  Displacing the traumatic thing, night jasmine enters through an open window.  He cannot control the foci of his attention.

Still he is caught, narrative and desire a folded obligation.  Death maps the night, only dawn recalling inevitability.

He trembles as her mouth closes upon his sex.


Another code, dawn, rescinds the license of the night.  His bed, a temporary reprieve.

If he must have her, what will she do with him?

A jew, a muslim, a christian, a king.  The possibilities apparently endless.  The 13 versions, each verse more fantastic than the last.

Language nourishes a lack for which it is the only recourse.




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