The Poet and the Poem

The Poet and the Poem
by Theodora Goss

The Emily we remember
is not Emily,
who gathered apples before they could fall
from the tree
to lie rotting on the grass, where bees
would feast on their sweetness.
Not the woman
dressed in white dimity
who walked through the garden to find
a basket half-forgotten
by nieces and nephews, filled
with carved wooden circus animals,
an elephant, a giraffe, a painted
tiger, grinning
with his painted teeth.
Who, laughing, half out of breath,
left parcels for those same
nieces and nephews — a jar of honey
or a humorous rhyme
from Aunt Emily.

We remember
that she would not stop for death,
that she was nobody, flitting
through the attic of imagination,
telling the truth obliquely,
the chalk outline of a woman
made, if you look closely,
from words.

(The image is Girl Under Apple Tree by Edvard Munch.)

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The King of the Lake

The King of the Lake
by Theodora Goss

It was time for the Great Blue Heron’s toilette:
mid-afternoon, when light fell over the lake
sideways and the sun, still golden, shone
with the intensity of midsummer although autumn,
announced by the first few orange leaves, had come.
Sprinkled over the water were some lily pads
and two brown ducks, escorted by a drake.

He fluffed his feathers, gray and blue, like a cloak
of storm clouds, then stretched out his neck
and combed the feathers there
with one clawed foot, looking briefly ridiculous.
I did not know a Great Blue Heron could look
so ridiculous, as though he had washed his hair,
shaken it into a tangled halo,
and was combing it out, perched
on a dead branch sticking out of the water,
where on other days turtles slept in the sunlight.
Suddenly he hunched himself again
into himself, growing elegant and inscrutable.
I felt as though I had seen
a nineteenth-century gentleman
with his cravat untied.

Then a fish sent ripples across the water,
disturbing the leaves of the forest under the water.
By the time I looked up, he appeared as noble
as a marble emblem of serenity. And yet,
I felt as though I had seen something. I don’t know what,
but something important. Perhaps the other side
of Nature, disheveled and careless, without the splendor
of her sunsets or snow-capped mountains, sitting
at a table in her negligée, playing solitaire.
Here was her king, like a character
from a fairy tale, who had briefly put down
his crown and revealed himself.

The image is a Great Blue Heron by John James Audabon.

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The Beech Trees

The Beech Trees
by Theodora Goss

I was sitting among beech trees,
older than me, older than the houses around
the perimeter of the park,
with lace curtain, walls of mellow brick
dating from the last century,
but the beech trees were older,
from when this land was still wilderness,
and I had a thought, that this too —
this time we were living in — would pass,
and I would pass, and you
(but me first, hopefully),
while the beech trees would remain.
And that thought
brought me a sense of peace
deeper than understanding,
as though I were seated on sacred ground.

(The image is A Girl by a Beech Tree in a Landscape by George Price Boyce.)

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The Fairies’ Gifts

The Fairies’ Gifts
by Theodora Goss

The fairies came to my christening.
They were not invited — my family,
not being royalty, did not know
any fairies personally.
They just showed up, as fairies
do sometimes.

One was older, about four centuries old,
the other was younger, less than a century,
a teenager, in fairy years. She
was the older one’s apprentice.
What shall we give the baby? she asked
the older. Fairies always bring gifts,
for better or worse.

They were both dressed
in diaphanous things: thistledown, moonshine,
spider silk, the wishes children make, the vows
made by ardent lovers, fairytale ever-afters,
the wind as it blows through birches.
They both had wings,
like moths.

What do you suggest? asked the older.
The younger recognized this as a test.

Beauty? she said, looking at her mentor
nervously. Grace? Oh, I know. Let her be smart
and good at sums. Or maybe the ability
to play any instrument, carry a tune . . .
The older shook her head.
All those things can be learned, she said.
Let us give her, between us, courage
and the ability to endure.

(The image is by Edmund Dulac.)

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Guinevere and Lancelot

Guinevere and Lancelot
by Theodora Goss

I did not know
a love like this was possible,
said Guinevere to Lancelot.
It will bring down the kingdom
and the king, it will consume everything.

Lancelot replied
with a sorrowful look, putting
aside his book, you and I will burn
with passion and desire
until we are ash. How could that fire
not spread to the high towers of Camelot?
And yet, I would not give up
one touch of your hand
to save all England.

Nor I, said Guinevere,
bending her head, ashamed
and yet relieved it had been said.

(The image is Guinevere and Lancelot by Arthur Augustus Dixon.)

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Head of Aphrodite

Head of Aphrodite
Cyprus, 510 B.C.
by Theodora Goss

All the beautiful figures
rising from the waves, long toes
gripping foam, arms raised
to accept garlands of flowers,
covered by their own golden hair
or borrowed drapery, diaphanous as mist
over rosy flesh, all these
Aphrodites, Renaissance to pre-Raphaelite,
resolve themselves into her:
the ancient head, weighty limestone,
with an enigmatic almost-Etruscan smile,
reminding you that love is the oldest
of the gods, capable
of making you immortal
or driving you mad
with grief.

(The image is Head of Aphrodite, from the Worcester Art Museum. Photo by Theodora Goss.)

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The Forest

The Forest
by Theodora Goss

You took a photograph
of the forest.

At first I was not in it,
just the trees
made amethyst by twilight.

And then I was,
as though you had imagined me
into the rising mist,
or conjured me out of it.

I was a moth, with luminous
wings, fluttering
aimlessly over the mossy carpet
of the forest floor,
among the ferns that raised their curled fronds
like green fists.

And then a fox, glimmering
under the trees, the white tip of my tail
moving like a ghost.
What was I stalking so purposefully? Perhaps
a frightened mouse that disappeared
into its burrow.

And then I was a tree myself,
an aspen, quivering,
as nervous as a young girl
at her first evening party,
dressed in white bark, with the gold leaves
of my hair forming a diadem
for decoration.

Finally, I became
the pale disk of the moon
rising through the trees,
winking at you
with the gray crater of my eye —
my mischievous love,
who takes me
through so many transformations.

(The image is Beech Forest by Gustav Klimt.)

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