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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 34-36

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Theory of Economics

Theory of Economics

I have a slight thrumming aura of backache,
so Marie – we've met for a late lunch before a movie,
at a Greek place in the West Village – says

What you need is the chi gong parlor,
so we take a cab to a vague block between SoHo and Chinatown
– Marie has to look to find it – and once she's spotted

the flight of scarlet stairs leading down from the street,
she leaves us at the door, benevolently, as if to say,
Here, my dears, is the gift I've led you to.

We're ushered into a long room
bright as a nail salon,
various citizens, entirely dressed

but for coat and shoes, prone upon the many tables,
as we are, in a moment, Paul a table away from me.

His masseur's an intense, strapping man;
mine an intense, compact woman
who asks what sort of treatment I require
and soon pushes against various points
along my spine, which on the whole feels
more marvelous than unpleasant,

knots of tension loosening, and soon I'm fading
under the specific presence of touch; no more bright chamber
full of sore New Yorkers, no more street noise, shoppers, [End Page 34]
no more various and polyphonic expressions
of desire, no desire really, just press and release

here and here. Awareness moving
from one instance to the next.

Is that the cure, for subjectivity
to diminish to a singular point of attention,
everything but this floated away?

All too soon it's over, and the masseuse says,

Your friend not done, you want do more?
Sure, I say. Feet, she says? Almost before I've nodded we're off,
the pushing now exploring regions that do not seem

to exist until pressed.
And then the self's a golden ball dropped from some great height,
falling slowly, at ease, shattering into its component

elements without a sound, effortless . . .

Then somewhere into this almost-pleasure
I'm aware that Paul is crying, Ow!

and then I hear his masseur say, Your friend not done,
you want more? And he must think he may as well,
since I am still releasing the contained sounds of one

pushed into new life, until my treatment

comes to an end and the woman says,
Friend not done, we do head?
And then as a resistance I didn't know [End Page 35]

was there makes itself felt, resists, is banished,
I am dimly aware that the masseur
has climbed onto Paul's back; Paul is crying Oh, ow!

And just as I am vanishing again into the heaven
of rubbed temples, where no city exists except the one

in which the skull produces a delicate, golden music,
I am dimly aware of Paul's masseur saying, your friend . . . 

In this way we spend a small but substantive fortune,

a sum which would have been even greater had I not cried out,
as my masseuse left my hands & wrists and prepared
to commence elsewhere,

Stop, enough, no! To Paul's huge relief,
since he thought I must want to continue,
and therefore he must persist while I am persisting,
even though he was in pain, strong-armed by his fierce masseur,

and I thought he wanted to go on and therefore
I must endure the bliss that had become an exhaustion,

and we walked out onto the street relieved,
late for the movies, Paul limping a little,
my backache gone.

Mark Doty has published six books of poetry and two memoirs. His most recent collection of poems, Source, is available from HarperCollins.



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