The Gray Lands

The Gray Lands
by Theodora Goss

There are days when my heart is sick and my head is aching,
days when I just can’t go on anymore,
when rain comes down and soaks the autumn garden,
and wind blows in the door.

Then I pack my bags for a journey — pajamas, toothbrush,
sensible shoes — and I catch the morning train,
closing the gate behind me and leaving my house
to the relentless rain.

When I arrive at the tiny village station,
the pony trap will be waiting to take me home
along a road between two lines of birches
that have never been bent by storm.

There, in an attic bedroom, I will sleep
as dreamlessly as I slept when just a child,
then take a walk over the high green foothills
left unmown and wild.

There, my heart will feel what it was meant for —
the joy that precedes and sometimes follows pain.
I will remember why I must eventually
return to the world again.

But meanwhile there will be a friendly kitchen,
a cat that wants to curl into my lap,
a kettle singing to the spinning wheel,
tea in a porcelain cup.

Meanwhile I will find peace in my native country,
the strange and distant Gray Lands where I was born,
that you cannot reach unless you have a passport
and look a bit forlorn.

If you come, I will meet you at the station
and bring you back to Mother Night’s abode,
pointing out the poppies and cornflowers blooming
along the winding road.

(The image is Poppy Field, Argenteuil by Claude Monet.)

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That Sort of Day

That Sort of Day
by Theodora Goss

Today is the sort of day when everything breaks:
already, the dawn has broken, and the telephone,
and words don’t mean what they used to anymore,
and my heart is breaking, and waves continue to break
in foaming crests on the slick, moss-covered rocks.

Today is the sort of day on which we shatter
like glass, and all the pieces of us scatter
on the wind, when everything we had is lost
or left behind: the car keys, the grocery list,
the sensible mind. It is the sort of day
when I have dropped all the dishes on the floor.

There is nothing to do with a day like this but dedicate
it to grief and loss, to say let us walk on the shore,
where the sea crashes and slowly the land wears away,
and the moon rises, perfectly indifferent to us,
not caring at all whether we come or go,
or if we go, where it is we have gone.

(The image is by Gesso Yoshimoto.)

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Someday, Lilacs Will Bloom on Your Grave

Someday, Lilacs Will Bloom on Your Grave
by Theodora Goss

If you have never been beautiful,
you will become beautiful. Have you ever seen
the long, lean elegance of bone?
All that is unclean about you,
the degenerate flesh that longed and dreamed,
the stomach with its hungers,
the heart with its lusts, even the pink knot
of the brain with its strange fantasies, its belief
in the importance of the ephemeral,
will be long gone.

If you have never been famous,
you will become at least
this famous: a stone will proclaim
that you lived, which is finally
the most important thing about you:
that you were given the same chance
as the king of a mighty kingdom,
a mouse in the kitchen corner.

If you have never been wealthy,
you will be given what money can’t buy:
time to rest peacefully in the turning earth,
in still, dark soil with roots and worms
beneath the grass, beneath
an always-changing sky.
No millionaire sleeps as soundly
as the dead.

And if you have been all these things,
if you have known beauty, fame, wealth,
if in life you were one of the fortunate
who walked in gold, you will gain at last
anonymity, becoming one of many
in the fellowship of the dead, the poverty
of keeping all your possessions in one box,
the uniformity of being pared down
to your essential elements.

Do not be sad: you have been given
nothing and everything. Every spring,
the lilacs will wave over you.

(The image is Lilacs by Vincent Van Gogh.)

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by Theodora Goss

I have come this morning to bring you some news:
the lilacs are blooming.

When you walk along the street, you can smell them —
their fragrance floats in the air like a scarf
around the neck of a beautiful woman
named Spring.

(The image is The Lilac Tree by Ferdinand Hodler.)

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The Gentleman

The Gentleman
by Theodora Goss

Has the milk gone sour this morning?
Are there tracks upon the floor
where you could have sworn you swept
carefully the night before?
Are the window shutters open?
Did the clock forget to chime?
Could you simply have forgotten
to set the time? Surely not.

Are the chickens agitated?
Could a fox have come last night
and sniffed around their coop,
to put them in a fright?
There’s a fox that walks on two legs;
when he comes, the farmyard dog
pricks his ears and sits as silent
as a log. Unfortunately.

Is the horse’s mane completely
in a tangle, and its hide
crusted with the mud that splashed
from its hooves during the ride?
That’s how you know. The Gentleman
does love his nightly ride. And the maid
milking the cows this morning smiles
mysteriously. Oh, for goodness’ sake.

You should do something. Gather
the town together, determine to catch
the malefactor. How many of you
have had your tulips trampled,
your best cow addled, your daughter
suddenly dreamy? But. What
if he were brought to justice,
black boots in the courtroom,
black eyes laughing at you,
at the good wives, industrious,
neat as a pin in their cotton
gowns, making you feel,
well, ridiculous, and somehow flushed,

and worse, what if the cabbages
bolted, and the asparagus flopped,
and the squash were all infested
with worms. You can’t trust him.
And worse yet, what if the moon
refused to change, and the leaves
on the trees never caught the fire
of autumn. And it was your fault.

I tell you, my dear:

If the milk was sour this morning,
and the laundry is in knots,
if the geraniums are missing
from their flowerpots,
if the mice have gotten into
the bacon and the cheese,
laugh and let the Gentleman do
as he pleases. I know, what a mess.

But a robin’s on the handle
of the shovel, singing softly,
and the clouds are floating overhead.
Admit, the world is mostly
as it ought to be. Tonight the moon
will pull the distant tide,
and the Gentleman will come to take
his nightly ride. With a kiss for you

even if you don’t notice.
But my dear,
you do.

(The image is an anonymous eighteenth-century portrait of a gentleman.)

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The Morning After

The Morning After
by Theodora Goss

Even on the morning after
a great tragedy, the world is still beautiful.
Should it be? I don’t know.

Perhaps after the slaughter, after
the bodies lying in a field, the houses burning,
clouds should no longer continue intermittently
concealing and revealing the sky. Perhaps leaves
should stop turning orange and yellow and red.
Perhaps they too should honor the dead.
But they don’t.

If anything, the world says to us:
my strange, impermanent children,
look at my mountains. Learn to breath, as they do.
Look at my forests, at the trunks of trees that have grown
over a century. Or the grasses, renewed annually.
They live and die, yet are no less important than the rocks.
The moth that lives for a day is as precious
as the tortoise.

Learn to love what you are: a part
of the whole. Do not divide yourself.
Do not think you are alone, or you alone
walk this earth. Wolves slip through the forest
and above you, wild geese are calling.
You are part of the family: let that be
not frightening but reassuring.

This morning, the river will not mourn with you.
It will continue to flow, as it has since before
you were born. But as you memorialize the dead
again, for this has happened before, it will remind you
that beyond strife and sorrow and anger,
the leaves are turning. That it is autumn,
and swallows are preparing
once again to fly south.

(The image is Autumn Landscape by Vincent Van Gogh.)

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My Pajamas Have Pockets

My Pajamas Have Pockets
by Theodora Goss

Today I discovered, to my surprise,
that my pajamas have pockets.

Tonight when I fall asleep
and walk along the shores of that sea
filled with stars like fish, or fish
like stars, I will collect
some of the shells scattered
among the rocks. They are as white
as chalk, streaked with verdigris,
slick and wet. When you pick them up,
they look at you like eye sockets.
And you wonder: what lived here, once
at the dawn of the world?

I will put them in my pockets
and climb the cliff,
past the grasses waving
like green tongues.

The shells are also coins.
I will give them to the raven
in the red kerchief, preaching revolution
and poetry. He will admit me
into the tower, and I will begin to climb,
around and around while above
the silver moon is chiming,
until I have worn through my slippers.
Finally, I will arrive
at the top where, among the clouds,
Mother Night sits
beside her spinning wheel.

“Come drink with me, daughter,”
she will say, and offer,
in a cut-glass goblet, elderflower wine,
on a porcelain plate, a ginger biscuit.

“Ask your question,” she will say, when I am full
and a little tipsy. “I would like to see
my life,” I will reply. “Is the thread long or short?
Silk or hemp?” She will laugh
and run her fingers along the thread
feeding into the orifice,
winding around the bobbin.
“Gold, daughter. All my threads
are gold. And you hold
the scissors. Here, for good luck.”
She will give me
a thimble like an acorn cup.

After curtseying awkwardly,
because how does one curtsey in pajamas anyway,
I will walk out the window into the forest,
where the birds are making a racket
and a rabbit is knitting
a small blue hat, like a beret.

I will buy it from her
with the gold thread wound
around and around my wrist.
She will insist on adding a bobble.
As I walk along the path,
the squirrels will admire me immensely.
The foxes will look at me askance,
until one of them invites me to dance.

The next morning, I will wake up
with an acorn in one pocket
and in the other, a blue knitted hat,
very small. I will have a headache
as though I had drunk too much,
and worn-out slippers.

Pockets on pajamas: seems
strange, doesn’t it? But
never let them tell you that pockets
are useless in the land of dreams.

(The image is Lady of the Night by Don Blanding.)

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