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GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS

by
 They have my own fear of the dark,

Tupapau - spirits of the dead they call it;

Returning late with oil I found fear of it

Had spread my vabine naked on the bed.
Manao-Taipapau means ‘she thinks of the spectre’ Or ‘the spectre is thinking of her’, either way She is afraid; I marvel at a tongue so readily ambiguous, Lying across her forked thigh.
I buy rum for her ‘many parents’, for her One cheap dress a month suffices; in return She gathers fish and wild-fruit from the blue Mountain groves where no white man walks.
Once when I fished from the long canoes A fish caught the hook in its lower jaw, laughing I learnt this meant my vahine was unfaithful : She answered ‘Beat me’ but I lay down by her side.
I bathe in ‘the stream of life’, naked to offend The priestly beetles - Cezanne’s ‘red shout’ indeed.
Waiting for mail I accumulate bills, pictures and sores Side by side, lying down alone in the dark.

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