IN THE SHADOW OF THE GODDESS

BY

ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI

I

The day of your

withdrawal was the

last day of summer.

The first day of autumn

and your scent

still heavy on the

pillow, mingling with

the bitter tears of

the pining lover.

II

The alacrity of our union

and its lightning destruction:

Our breaths were taken away;

and although we could speak, we

were almost mute, for we

seemed to communicate by

subtler means than speech.

Too beautiful and demanding.

How could we mimic the spirit

of the goddess, mere mortals,

running from one chimaeric rainbow

after another on a never ending

horizon, heading for unknown

airports, waiting to receive one's

luggage with the immigration officer

standing ready to stamp one's overcrowded passport?

III

Through the smoke

and mantras of droning devotees,

through the muted

golden light filtered through

the glass dome overhead,

illuminating the goddess: the

emerging profile of your

stunning, spellbinding presence.

Blinking my eyes, I did not

know whether you were

apparition or flesh and blood.

Were you the goddess self-manifest,

come to nullify the scoffing

tourist following the protocols

but not believing?

Our eyes fixed on

each other like confused votaries

each thinking the other

to be the idol.

IV

Oh brimming heart.

Overflowing of instantaneous oblivion

to all around us, we crossed the

temple floor. The only language

we could speak lay not in

our lips, but in our hearts,

bringing, in their time, the right

words through the power

of the goddess.

V

Her power was in you and

you knew it and I gladly

fell under its sway.

We dropped small silver coins

into the alms basket as

we walked out of the misty

mysterium of the goddess'

temple together.

Like a Botticelli Venus and a

Gypsy bruja, you stood in

alluring simultaneity. The bright

sun made your amber hair

gleam with its long, thick

French braid held in place

with silver hair pins.

We gave up our souls

to the gaze of our eyes.

We surrendered our thoughts

to the will of the goddess.

We walked under her spell,

our hearts teeming with love--

as if it were a

most natural thing for

two strangers to declare

great love for one another

having just met under

most curious circumstances.

VI

When you tugged my

hand you were saying:

"Walk with me."

When I touched your arm

I was saying: "Stop."

When you closed your eyes and

lifted your head, you told me:

"Kiss me."

Ah, long journey into your

breath, the sacred breath of the

goddess, animating you, breathing

into me a new language,

reshaping my syntax and

vocabulary into sensations, hearing or

tasting your lips (I know

not which) as one would savor

the sweetness of a

special fruit, lingering a moment

longer before eating it.

VII

A siren broke our trance.

Even in this forgotten place

the screams of the world we

ran from catch up with us,

searching us out with monster-red

blinking eyes, outlining us in

the twilight. Turning our heads,

we followed the mechanical

shrieks with our

startled eyes.

While we waited for the

wail to fade, we held

one another tightly in

refuge from unmitigating forces.

VIII

An exotic feast.

A table spread for love

and good appetites. We

sampled everything; we

refused nothing.

We put into our mouths

all the meats and flavors:

some tangy, some bland,

some salty and bitter,

some cooling, one hot,

burning our tongues in

spicy heat.

The locals ate soothing yogurt

to quench this spice fire,as

common sense would dictate.

We chose, instead, to

assuage our suffering

mouths with delivering kisses.

IX

The room was wide and

long, the louvered doors and

shutters let in the cool

night air and sounds

which carried to us as

we sat ingenuously in

serene adoration before

a small statue of the

goddess we had bought in

the open air market, the

mass-produced kind pilgrims

and tourists buy as a memento.

We chanted her mantra

and burned sandalwood incense,

initiating ourselves into

her cult. With our hands

clasped reverently together,

we listened for the sound

of her welcoming voice.

X

Dawn found us entwined

in slumbering repose

our passions spent in the

shadow of the goddess.

Our bodies lay encased in a

rarefied atmosphere, protective,

seductive, intoxicating our

blood, lips and thighs.

And like accompaning music, the song of

the goddess sang in our recumbent,

sensuous souls, waiting

to burst upon us like

thundering cataracts falling from

high mountains.

XI

Sleeping dreamless in uroboric

bliss, oblivious to the world.

Ah, blessed sleep hiding us

for a while from the

unfortunate vicissitudes of

the human condition.

My eyes hovered, fluttering

half open seeing your nipples

like two magic fountains

for a long thirsty traveler.

Gently I took one

into my yearning,

arousing me to seek out

pleasure in your

smooth-walled valleys,

waking you

to rapture at the peak

of love's mountain.

XII

Under the spell of the goddess,

with the continuous chanting

of her precious names, we

visited her temple often and made

our devotions with flowers before

her altar and poured holy oil

into her perpetual flame,

consuming our offering,

fusing our union for one

more day...one more day.

XIII

Every one comes from

some where. Where did we

come from?

We replied our countries, our

parentage and a remote ancestor

or two; we each gave our litanies

of hometown, mailing address, occupation;

we exchanged and playfully

scrutinized each other's

passports as would

busy officials confirming

likeness and particulars.

Yet in this exchange of superfluous

identity, we could not say where

we came from, for in our dizziness

of first-erupted love,

we were disconnected from our past,

heady with the elixir the

goddess had distilled

for us...us alone.

Like the forgetfulness caused by

the waters of Lethe, we two were lost

in paradise, lost in forms and

smells and incalescent passions

of body and soul, ever wanting

satisfaction; we gave of ourselves

freely to whim, yen and desire, filling our

mouths, stuffing our bellies with

divine flavors.

With the fixedness of blind love,

we created our own myth--

wrought by the goddess in whose

temple we met.

No longer separate entities, we

became male-female archetypes

of lovers from the ages, continuing

the devotions of the original lovers, now

lost in time-worn carvings of

unfound civilizations--but remembered

in the collective unconscious each of us

carries deep in genetic memory of cells

and mutating molecules,

passing down the recondite code of

remembering the touch of the lover

from the past.

Ah, my sweet, though we might

have held and kissed each other

so a thousand, thousand

lifetimes before,

yet I still prefer you flesh and

blood of renewed kisses kept in

cosmic storage from eons ago.

XIV

Rain, lightning and thunder,

driving street vendors, shoppers and

strollers to shelter, filling up

the tea shops and the main street's eaves.

We were lucky and got seats on

a tea crate, protected from the

down pour under a colored awning,

spread like wings enough for

the two of us.

The rain kept falling and

our light garments did little to

keep us from goose flesh cold, but

we wanted to be away, be dry, warm and cozy.

Frowning faces surrounded us; this

unexpected rain made the merchants

anxious and made us want to be alone.

With our secret code, each received

the signal and we dashed! out

into the downpour and

headed back to our room.

XV

Our fevers were intermittent,

but lasting; our sickness was

not fatal, a doctor assured us;

bed rest and lots of liquids and

take these pills to bring down

the fever.

When I was prostrate, you were up

to wash and cool and feed and

help me, too weak even to make

my water unaided.

Angel of healing, spooning me

broths, brewing me teas to keep

the microbes at bay, which had

invaded our intestines.

Night after night we cared for

each other like dedicated nurses

caring for sick-a-bed-children,

needing extra care, especially

at midnight when dreams and

fevers clash in exotic

visions with terrible monsters

and sensuous sirens hailing the

confused sick traveler, dream-terrified

in twisted, primeval dreamscapes.

A scream in the night!

Waking all a tremble, I find

you next to me holding my

head and stroking my cheek.

XVI

Days of health; the body heals,

the cells regenerate, the parasites

die and enervation overcome.

Recuperation under mild blue skies

as we walk to the temple to

celebrate our restoration with

garlands of flowers and sticks

of pungent incense.

We bow before the Great Mother of love,

singing her praises, two meek

invocations among thrice a

hundred voices all wanting her mercy,

all wanting her love.

In deep appreciation we back

stepped to the exit and with

reverent eyes took one more look,

then dashed we into the teeming

plaza festooned for the ceremony

which would carry the image of

the goddess through the streets of the city,

preceded by devotees, strewing gilded

petals, chanting holy mantras,proclaiming

her glory in a chorus of praises from

hoarse throats and sweet

voices from shy soprano virgins

goaded by their mothers to

pray for a rich husband.

In this throng, suddenly you

were gone! How can this be?

I pushed and pulled through

the mob of obstructions, I shouted

your name above the name

of the goddess and my frantic

yell was lost in the din.

The sea of people pushed me

along on the circuit, half around

the city. I managed to free myself

and climbed some high stairs, hoping

to see you in the masses of followers

who have swallowed you up

and left me abandoned.

XVII

Brutal realization of your

absence. My orientation gone,

my compass shattered and a

directionless needle spins

as if in mockery of my alarm.

Like one frenzied, I ran from

corner to corner, reentering the

mob of jubilant devotees, carrying

the goddess about the city.

Goddess, from your heights: do you

see her?

XVIII

I waited anxiously at the hotel room

for nearly a day, then went to

the police station where they

showed me a body. A victim

of trampling, found in the gutter,

a tall foreign woman who

was not you!

I rushed to the temple

and lit incense to the goddess

asking her to find you,

and reunite our hearts.

Then I heard temple bells ringing and saw

the crowds make way; a door opened.

And out came novices, all

in long robes, ambling in

devotion and humming prayers.

Among the new nuns,

I spotted your amber hair,

standing out sharply next to

your dark-haired sisters.

In a moment the dream

was over; the thick smoke from

the incense choked me and burned

my eyes; the press of the devotees

and their incessant chanting

drove me to distraction.

I pushed through the crowd.

But before I went out I

turned to the goddess who

now seemed grotesque, and I

saw the back of your head

as you disappeared into

the nunnery.

The End

Copyright 1995

San Franciscothat vile woman! Patty," he said, his voice at a high pitch and nervous, "I'll have to resign; you'll have