What Galatea Said

What Galatea Said
by Theodora Goss

You made me,
breast and thigh, the curves
of my belly. Out of marble
you selected yourself
from a quarry in the mountains
outside the city of Carrara, the color
of bleached linen or the surface
of the full moon. You carved
the lines of my jaw, the lenses
of my eyes, the waves
of my hair tumbling
down down down
to the tops of my buttocks.

And now,
unsatisfied, you want
to amend your own creation.
My dear Pygmalion,
having begged the implacable
Aphrodite for my life,
marble to woman, I’m afraid
you will have to live
with imperfection.

(The image is Pygmalion and Galatea by Ernest Normand.)

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Spring Poem

Spring Poem
by Theodora Goss

It was spring. All the birds were building their nests
and I had no nest.
They were settling down and finding a place to rest
and I had no place
to rest, or to lay my head and dream a while.
So I envied them: the robins, so domestic,
bringing insects to their fledglings in the branches
of the maple tree, through whose green leaves I could see
the flash of orange breasts,
the blackbirds and grackles proclaiming their presence, loudly
iridescent, and the mallards on the pond, the males
with their green-banded necks, the females
dressed in brown, like Quakers. They sat on the water
as though upon a green, reedy mattress,
comfortably bobbing up and down,
and I wished more than anything for a pillow
or a blanket to wrap around myself,
as soft as duck feathers, or even a coverlet made of leaves
so I could pull the green of it over myself,
to sleep and sleep and sleep
and dream of flying.

(The image is American Robin by John James Audubon.)

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To Be a Woman

To Be a Woman
by Theodora Goss

To be a woman is to be always holding
the tears of others, the fears,
the dreams and hopes and desires
of others, as a jar holds water.
There are days on which she thinks, yes.
I can do this. There are days
when she thinks,
no more, no more. I’m starting
to crack.

(The image is The Blue Jar by William McGregor Paxton.)

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The Bat-Woman

The Bat-Woman
by Theodora Goss

She lives in the darkness
of the cave. She hangs
upside down by her toes, she clutches
a fissure in the rock, the long nails
of her toes hanging on, the rest of her hanging
suspended, her wings lying along her back,
tipped with the claws of her bony hands,
her head swiveling
when her ears, large like palm fronds,
delicately veined, hear anything
at all, a pebble dropping from the cavern wall,
a drop of water falling from a stalactite.
She has soft fur, silky. Underneath
she looks like a woman, young,
thin, almost skin and bone.
She is always hungry. Moths
and such night-flying insects are not as filling
as you might think.
In the darkness of the cave, the bat-woman
hangs, listening, listening.
She can hear
what the stars sing.

(The image is a photograph of actress Marie Schleinzer in a bat costume, taken around 1900.)

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The Kreagra

The Kreagra
(Bronze, 450-350 BC)
by Theodora Goss

In a case in the Museum of Fine Arts
in Budapest, there is a kreagra.
It looks a bit like the end of a garden rake
if its tines resembled the arms of an octopus
on a Greek vessel, radiating over
the terracotta background, or a bronze claw
shaped like a flower, perhaps a chrysanthemum,
the kind with a single layer of petals curling outward
that you find in old Japanese prints.
The sign underneath explains that we do not know
what the kreagra was, or what it was used for.
In both English and Hungarian, it is called a kreagra
(so-called, says the sign, without saying who called it so,
or why), and Wikipedia,
that modern oracle, refers us back to
the object in the case in the Museum of Fine Arts
in Budapest, as though it were the only kreagra
that exists, or has ever existed.

The sign says it could have been used
to hold a votive torch or for roasting sacrificial
meat, but its use is uncertain.
Your guess is a good as the sign’s. What would you use
your kreagra for? Catching an octopus?
Raking a flowerbed filled with chrysanthemums?
I’m sure it would make an excellent toasting fork.
More practically, it has become a symbol
of how limited our knowledge really is,
how much we have lost, how much of human history
is a best guess, because what actually happened
has disappeared into the enveloping darkness
of time, like the (presumed) wooden handle
of the kreagra (so-called), or the (presumed) men and women,
huntsmen, fishermen, priestesses, who knows,
that used it once, and might have been able to tell us
what it is, what it meant,
what any of it meant.

(This is the kreagra from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. I have since learned that there are other kreagras — or kreagrae? — in various European museums. I still do not know what it is or does.)

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Easter Monday

Easter Monday
by Theodora Goss

In the city that has not been bombed,
there are people walking.
Some of them are clearly lovers,
some of them are just as clearly families
or friends — you can tell
from the way they walk together,
touch each other — the teenage girls
giggling over whatever they see on their cell phones,
the couple talking quietly, heads leaning
toward one another, the children on scooters, their father
also on his scooter, moving over the pavement
like ducks on a pond, with a similar
fluid buoyancy.
The woman sitting by herself on the museum steps,
intent on knitting something orange —
a scarf? For herself or her boyfriend,
brother, grandmother,
who have not been killed in a war.

The forsythia are blooming,
the lilacs are just beginning to bloom,
the periwinkles are blooming, blue and purple,
there are tulips.

In the city that has not been bombed,
the trams are running,
although the stores are closed for the holiday,
the holy day, which is why the church bells are ringing,
and the river is flowing, hopefully to another city
that has not been bombed,
under its bridges. The boats —
I can’t see them from here, but I’m certain
that the boats are still sailing
on the river, under the flags of different countries,
unfurling in the wind.

Meanwhile, here people are walking
under the trees, the beeches and birches
and ancient chestnuts,
which are lifting their candles,
their white candles,
amid the emerging green, as though celebrating
spring and rebirth in the city that has not been bombed
yet.

(The image is Union Square in Spring by Childe Hassam.)

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The Princess and the Peas

The Princess and the Peas
by Theodora Goss

It was raining.
It had been raining for four days
and you were as wet
as a wet pig, as your mother would say.
Water was dripping from your hair
down to your collarbones
and to your dress, already sopping,
rags, really — regulation wear for a pig girl.
At first you didn’t realize
it was a castle, and when you did,
what of it? A castle was as good
shelter as any other.

When you knocked on the door, the footman,
to your surprise, said, “Are you a princess?
They’re looking for princesses in here.”
His smirk, you realized, was not for you,
but them in there, intent
on a princess hunt.

“Sure,” you said. Why not?
What is a princess anyway?
You were the princess of a hovel,
a field of mud, a pigsty, a herd of porkers,
daughter of the pig-queen of a village
too small to have its own name,
Lesser Something.

What is a princess, anyway?
Someone who sleeps on a feather bed, evidently.
Make that fourteen feather beds.
The queen looked at you askance
of course, with your rags and hair dripping,
bare feed muddy from trudging
through what the rain had made of the roads.
But royalty, once they’ve given their word,
seldom go back on it, seemingly.
You said you were a princess, so
you got the feather beds.

Of course it was a test. What isn’t, in this life?
You had known that
as soon as the footman looked at you sideways.
You knew it twice as surely
when the prince looked at you sideways.
He was a scrawny kid. The pigs would
have made quick work of him.
But what was the test?
It had to be about the feather beds.
That was the only strange thing
in the room, which was otherwise
perfectly ordinary — for royalty, that is.
Bigger than your hovel, about as big
as your hovel and the pig field,
but with no pigs in it. You didn’t miss them.

The water in the bath was hot and scented.
You emerged from it hot, scented, and as pink
as a newborn piglet. You were surprised to find
that your hair was blonde, and actually rather pretty.
It was nice not to be quite so muddy, for once.
The nightgown was soft and white, pure linen.
You had never felt anything like it
before, never having had a nightgown.
You quite liked it. So what was the test?
It took you a while to find the peas,
but not too long. You were used to finding
bits of carrot under muddy straw,
turnip ends, cabbage leaves,
any other vegetables that had not rotted,
trodden on by the pigs.
You would put them back in the troughs.
No use wasting good food.
You could root out anything the pigs could.
They would have found the peas, easy.

It was not until the next morning, when the queen
asked, “How did you sleep, my dear,
were you comfortable?” with a certain
look in her eyes, a significance,
that you figure it out.
“Terribly,” you said. “Excuse me,
your majesty, but I thinking someone
accidentally left rocks in my bed.
I am of course grateful
for your hospitality, but I could not
sleep a wink.”

There was something in the way
she looked at you, a small, satisfied smile,
that clued you in to what was going on.
The weak prince, the queen
who was looking for, not a princess,
but someone clever enough to solve her riddle.
The right girl for her son, the right girl for her throne.
What is a princess, anyway?
A girl that people bow to and call princess.

They gave you fine clothes, silk of course, and ermine.
They gave you a crown with a pair of matching earrings,
diamonds and pearls. You considered, for a while,
whether to stay or abscond with the jewelry.
But the queen, looking at you approvingly,
after the ladies in waiting had finished their labors,
said, “You know, my dear, before I was queen,
I was a shopkeeper’s daughter.
That’s why my son insisted, in his wisdom,
on a true princess.”
“Of course, your majesty,” you said in your best
princess voice. “I understand completely.”

Anyway, why shouldn’t you be queen?
Ruling a kingdom
was probably no more difficult than ruling a pigsty,
keeping the peace among a bunch of hogs,
keeping the sows from sleeping on their young.
By and by, you would inform your mother
that she was now the queen of a faraway kingdom
called something like Porcinia.
You would bring her to court, give her the comforts
she’d never had. Yes, Ma would like that,
especially the baths.
Your children would be heirs to the throne,
and by the look of the prince, you would be the power
behind it, eventually regent.
Not bad for a pig-keeper’s daughter
who had set out into the world
to make something of herself, saying to her mother,
give me your blessing, Ma. I’ll be somebody
someday. Watch me.

(The image is The Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac.)

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