A U G U S T 1 9 9 9
HENRY CLAY'S MOUTHby Thomas Lux
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Also by Thomas Lux:
The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball (1998)
Torn Shades (1996)
He Has Lived in Many Houses (1996)
Gorgeous Surfaces (1994)
Snake Lake (1984)
Senator, statesman, speaker of the House,
exceptional dancer, slim,
graceful, ugly. Proclaimed, before most, slavery
an evil, broker
of elections (burned Jackson
for Adams), took a pistol ball in the thigh
in a duel, delayed, by forty years,
with his compromises, the Civil War,
gambler ("I have always
paid peculiar homage to the fickle goddess"),
boozehound, ladies' man -- which leads us
to his mouth, which was huge,
a long slash across his face,
with which he ate and prodigiously drank,
with which he modulated his melodic voice,
with which he liked to kiss and kiss and kiss.
He said: "Kissing is like the presidency,
it is not to be sought and not to be declined."
A rival, one who wanted to kiss
whom he was kissing, said: "The ample
dimensions of his kissing apparatus
enabled him to rest one side of it
while the other was on active duty."
It was written, if women had the vote,
he would have been President,
kissing everyone in sight,
dancing on tables ("a grand Terpsichorean
performance ..."), kissing everyone,
sometimes two at once, kissing everyone,
of our people.
Thomas Lux teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. His most recent book is New and Selected Poems 1975-1995 (1997).
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 1999; Henry Clay's Mouth; Volume 284, No. 2; page 62.