Nude Descending a Staircase

May 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh —
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

– X. J. Kennedy

By the use of doubled-up words throughout (“toe upon toe”, “nothing on. Nor on”, “parts to let her parts”), Kennedy mimics the overlapping motion of Duchamp’s famous nude figure. The poet imagines the figure as female, whereas the artist never mentions its gender, but I think the latter would appreciate the the anatomical mischief the former splays across the stanzas (the poem’s wordplay is reminiscent of that in L.H.O.O.Q.)

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