The Country of Myself

The Country of Myself
by Theodora Goss

There are days
on which I return to the country of myself
and close the borders.

I order the trains to stop running, and ground
the airplanes. Barriers are erected at the checkpoints.
There are no cars on the roads, and the booths
where the guards usually sit are deserted.
No one goes in or out.

At the embassy,
no passports are stamped, no visas
are issued. In the banks,
you cannot exchange currency.
All the post offices are shuttered.
Even the telephone lines
go silent.

Don’t try to walk over the mountains,
thinking there are no boundaries
in the pine forests, thinking you can wade
through the rivers or clamber over the rocks.
My troops are on patrol, they have eyes
that can see in the dark.
Their dogs can smell your footsteps
on water. Not even birds
fly over the invisible lines
that exist on my map.
The rain hesitates
to blow across them.

Perhaps someday I’ll decide to reopen
the borders again, allow clouds to float across the sky
without a lengthy interrogation. Allow the moon
to shine down without the danger of catching
its beams on barbed wire.

Perhaps someday I’ll permit even you
to enter.

(The image is Young Girl with a Vase by Berthe Morisot.)

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Sun and Moon

Sun and Moon
by Theodora Goss

Sometimes you forget
that you are magical. Sometimes
you forget that the moon
keeps her face turned earthward just
so she can watch over you —
she is so jealous of the sun,
who is allowed to play all day in your hair.
And why should she not be?

I cannot fault her, scarred
from floating alone above the firmament,
vulnerable to accident and time,
shining in the darkness. I cannot envy
the nights she spends looking down at you, sleeping
as though you were another Endymion.

But her sister the sun,
who walks beside you through the city streets
dressed in yellow, running her fingers over geraniums
in the window boxes, over the stone lions
perched on bridges spanning a river green as glass,
who leaves the red imprint of her lips on your forehead,
whom you smile at on summer mornings —
yes, her I envy.

(The images is a drawing by Simeon Solomon.)

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The Photograph

The Photograph
by Theodora Goss

Forgive me, he said,
for sending you a picture of myself.
But there, you see, in the background
are some interesting hills,
and on the lake there is a heron
as blue as the lake.

I forgive you, I told him,
for sending me a picture with a lake,
some hills, and a great blue heron,
even though they distract
from what, to me,
is the object of primary interest.

(The image is a vintage advertisement for a Kodak camera.)

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Wild Heart

Wild Heart
by Theodora Goss

Wild heart, why do you lament?

The autumn winds blow cold,
and leaves lie on the pavement
in heaps of crimson and gold.
The river sleeps under panes of ice,
the grass on its banks grows sere,
and geese passing overhead
announce the death of the year.

Wild heart, wild heart, stop your moaning.
The year dies its annual death.
Snow will cover this barrenness,
and underneath
green leaves will curl in the acorn,
that carries life in its cup.
The season teaches you patience:
so wild heart, stop.

But the one I loved is gone
and will never come again;
he cannot be revived
by sun or rain.
He will not return with spring.

Then wild heart, break
and bury yourself in the earth
like a seed, to wake
when shoots push through the fallen leaves
and squirrels chirr in the oak,
to marvel and grieve at life’s
relentlessness.

(The image is Autumn Regrets by John Atkinson Grimshaw.)

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As the Days Pass

As the Days Pass
by Theodora Goss

As the days pass, as we talk less and less,
you seem more and more like someone I made up,
a bedtime story to keep away the dark,
a bulwark against the night that is coming on
so insistently, on furred black feet, like a cat,
so affectionately, like death, rubbing itself
against my shins, asking to be picked up
and settled on my lap.

You were a storybook prince, or a pirate ship.
You were a forest in which I used to wander.
You were a tune that played whenever I felt
despair or loneliness. Sometimes you became
a lucky coin that I carried in my pocket.
I lost it somewhere, perhaps as I walked through the city.
Perhaps you are lying on some icy sidewalk,
shiny side upward. You were a magic potion
that tasted like raspberry cordial.

If I made you up, how did I manage to do it?
Did I sculpt you out of clay, or stitch you from leaves?
Or what is more likely, since it is February,
did I make you out of snow, a living snowman?
No wonder you are starting to disappear,
as inevitably as spring replaces winter.
Soon, perhaps, you will melt away altogether
and I will be left standing in a puddle
of brackish water on the damaged asphalt,
staring at my own reflection, behind me
only the bare branches of an oak tree
against the empty sky.

(The image is Rippled Surface by M.C. Escher.)

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Nonsense Sonnet

Nonsense Sonnet
by Theodora Goss

You’re sad and I’m sick, and I’ve run out of words.
You’re sick and I’m sad, and there are no more chords.
We speak a different language, that the birds understand,
but you are too far away for me to take your hand.
The bees and flowers speak it, the wind and leaves and snow,
but where it is I’m going, you cannot follow.
Anyway, you may be just a dream after all,
melting with the icicles as spring reverses fall,
reflected in puddles the color of your eyes,
as bright and insubstantial as the hues of morning skies.
If you are, I’ll dream you a little longer yet,
and you, on your part, try not to forget
that once there were words, and once there was a rhyme,
a reason underneath it all before the end of time.

(The image is The Pilgrim and the Heart of the Rose by Edward Burne-Jones.)

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On Beauty

On Beauty
by Theodora Goss

I was trying to describe to you my idea of beauty:
how it consists of complexity within simplicity,
multiplicity within unity,
variety in harmony with itself,
like the serrated edges of a maple leaf,
the hexagonal points of a snowflake,
the gradations of brown on a hawk’s feathers.
It is the tension of the many
within one, like the peaks
of the Rockies, purple at sunset.

I explained it all so badly,
and going back to Hogarth’s line of beauty,
to Addison and Burke and Kant,
would have made the situation so much worse.

And yet look at yourself: singular,
yet infinitely complex,
multiplicitous, variable, like clouds
against an afternoon sky, like the waves of the Atlantic,
like all the visible stars of a summer night,
demonstrating what I mean by beauty
more neatly than any nineteenth-century philosopher.

(The image is The Floating World by Utagawa Hiroshige.)

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