Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Venus Pandemos

By Richard Dehmel

(Contemporary German poet, 1863–1920)
THIS was the last time. I was lounging in
The night-café that lights the suburb gloom,
Tired with the reek of sultry sofa plush,
And with my glowing toddy, and the steam
Of women sweating in their gowns: tired, lustful.        5
Clouds of tobacco smoke were wavering through
The laughter and the haggling cries and shrieks
Of painted women and the men they drew.
The rattling at the sideboard of the spoons
Cheered on the hubbub of the mart of love        10
Uninterrupted like a tambourine.…
I was about to choose, when, where I sate,
The crimson curtain of the door was split,
And a fresh couple entered. A cold draught
Cut through the heated room, and some one swore;        15
But through the crowd the pair stepped noiselessly.
Over against me at the transverse end
Of the corridor, whence they could sweep the room,
They took their seats. The chandelier of bronze
Hung o’er them like an awning heavy, old.        20
And no one seemed to know the couple, but
At my right hand I heard a hoarse voice pipe:
“I must have come across that pair before.”
He sat quite still. The loud gray of the air
Almost recoiled before his callous brow,        25
Which wan as wax rose into his sparse hair.
His great pale eye-lids hung down deep and shut,
On both sides lay around his sunken nose
Their shadows, and through his thin beard shone the skin.
And only when the woman at his side,        30
Less tall than he, and of a lissom shape,
Hissed, giggling, in his ear some obscene word,
Half rose of one black eye the heavy lid,
And slowly round he turned his long, thin neck,
As when a vulture lunges at a corpse.        35
And silent and more silent grew the room;
All eyes were fixed upon the silent guest,
And on the woman squatted, strange to see.
“She is quite young”—a whispering round me went;
And with a child’s greed she was drinking milk.        40
Yet almost old she seemed to me, whenever
Her tongue shot through a gap in her black teeth,
Her pointed tongue out of her hissing mouth,
While her gray, eager glance took in the room;
The gaslight in it shone like poisonous green.        45
And now she rose. He had not touched his glass;
A great coin lit the table. She went out;
He automatically followed her.
The crimson curtain round the door fell to,
Once more the cold draught shivered through the heat,        50
But no one cursed. Through me a shiver ran.
I did not choose a partner—suddenly
I knew them: it was Syphilis and Death.

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