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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A Room of Her Own

A Room of Her Own
by Theodora Goss

Every woman must have a room
where she can be completely herself.

Where there are flowers on the table,
roses and lilies in a vase
inherited from her grandmother.
Where there are patches of sunlight and shadow
on the old wooden floor,
and birdsong comes in through the window,
morning and evening. Where the furniture
embraces her at the end of each day, after
she had been everything to everyone,
except to herself.
Where she is at home.

Every woman must have a place
where she can retreat and rest,
like a bird to its nest, or a bear
to its cave in the dark forest.
With lace curtains, and pillows
on the comfortable chair
so she can curl up and dream,
like a snail in its shell, snugly
tucked into herself.

With a shelf of the books
she read as a child,
their covers soft from the repeated touch
of small fingers,
and in the air, the lingering
scent of her mother’s perfume.

Every woman should have
such a room.

(The image is A Favorite Author by Poul Friis Nybo)

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Madeleine in the Bois d’Amour

Madeleine in the Bois d’Amour
(Émile Bernard, 1892)
by Theodora Goss

The girl is picking a flower
from the pink tree.
Her hat is lying on the grass
because it is springtime —
the sun is shining, the forest behind her
is golden with promise.
And her friend in the foreground,
named no doubt something like Isabelle
or Yvette, is wearing a crown
of delicate white flowers. She is already
a queen of the spring, as Madeleine
will be. In her pink dress, with her hair
falling in a golden stream.
This is a dream of love and timelessness,
the two girls existing in an eternity
of afternoon. Someday, perhaps,
they will be married and have children,
responsibilities, dishes to wash.
But not now, or now, or now.
Here, now, it is always spring in Brittany.
The river in the background is flowing
between green hills,
and the white blossoms are floating
above the branches of the pink tree
like clouds.

(The image is Madeleine au Bois d’Amour by Émile Bernard.)

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The Hellebore

The Hellebore
by Theodora Goss

It was January, and yet
the green leaves of the hellebore still stuck
out of last year’s leaf mold, mostly oak
and maple, edged with frost
(there was frost all over the garden),
rising leathery green against the brown,
and underneath I could see the pale cream buds
of what, eventually, would become flowers like bowls
of milk, the color of a wedding gown,
as soft as the cheek of a newborn,
as elegant as one of those engravings
from the Edo period, stylized
and meaning something other than itself:
resiliency, rebirth. The promise
of Spring. But they did not have to mean
anything in particular, as I stood there admiring
their tenacity: I simply wanted them
to continue being themselves, and for myself to learn
a little, just a little, of their endurance.

(The image is a nineteenth-century botanical print.)

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Autumn

Autumn
by Theodora Goss

The leaves are falling and falling,
and you are gone.
I lie alone while the sky fills up with darkness
like a cup. Moonlight spills on the white pillow
where you used to lie.
An owl calls from the forest
in which we walked together until the path
was printed with our footsteps, faded now,
and leaves are falling like pieces
of the night.

(The image is Owl on Maple Branch with Full Moon by Utagawa Hiroshige.)

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Furnishing My Grave

Furnishing My Grave
by Theodora Goss

Here are the things I want in my tomb:
a cornstraw broom
so my soul can fly to the moon and back,
a small black stone
polished until it shines like a mirror
to ward away nightmares as I sleep
in my cotton shroud,
dried poppies with seeds rattling in their pods
to wake me when it is time,
a red string braided into one strand
for luck, and a gold ring
that I will wear to meet my new bridegroom,
who will greet me when I have grown
delicate, lean, and white,
with delight, saying my dear,
I have waited for you so long. How beautiful
you are in your wedding gown
of cotton and lace, fit
for a celebration.

These are all I will need,
I believe, in my final bedroom.
Maybe a pillow filled with sage and lavender
to freshen the air,
although I will no longer care
to breathe — there will be so many other
things to do there.

(The image is Distant Thoughts by Janet C. Fisher.)

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