A Taxonomy of Storms

A Taxonomy of Storms
by Theodora Goss

You tell me there are seven kinds of storms.

Rainstorms that come in autumn, soaking the leaves
which have fallen, red and gold, on the city sidewalks,
running down the gutters and into the grates,
forming pools in potholes that we can stand in
with our rain boots on, pretending to be children
once more, and mirroring back another world
we could get to if only we could jump through puddles
to the other side. Then there are hailstorms that send
pellets of ice to beat on our umbrellas
like inexperienced drummers. Snowstorms seem
so much gentler in comparison,
as though winter had shaken out her counterpane,
sending stray feathers over the shrubbery,
over the lawns. At first we make angels and snowmen,
at first we have snowball fights and dream of Christmas,
but after three weeks, trudging between packed banks,
we curse the stuff, no longer immaculate,
but splashed by cars, the brown of axle grease.
Then there are ice storms, which bring down power lines.
One morning we wake to a world encased in ice,
glittering like a diamond, and as hard,
brilliant, deadly, reminding us that nature
is a careless mother who kills more than she heals.

Thunderstorms, you tell me, are rainstorms with thunder
and lightning — which of course I could have guessed.
I know the pleasure of listening for that rumble
in the distance, of waiting for the lightening flash
from behind the safety of a window, warm beneath
a blanket, with a book open on my lap.
You tell me about tornadoes and hurricanes,
which are different, you say, although both involve high winds,
rotating winds, like being on a carousel
that you can’t get off, whose horses are mist and cloud.
Those sound the same, I say, simply to provoke you,
because I like to see your forehead wrinkle
when you frown, explaining that there are differences,
important differences, such as for example
that tornadoes occur on land, while hurricanes
are almost always at sea, where they topple ships.
Instead of blowing houses from Kansas to Oz,
I say. You look at me doubtfully, and I try
not to laugh, because you don’t like to be laughed at,
not about things like storms, or tax returns,
or car inspections, or the proper occasion
on which to wear your father’s antique cufflinks.

What if I told you that you are my favorite storm,
not a rainstorm, or ice storm, or hailstorm, but some other kind,
an eighth kind of storm the meteorologists
haven’t classified yet? As beautiful and dangerous
as any hurricane: you have blown my ships,
with their fresh white sails, like the wings of seagulls, far
out to sea, where I don’t know how to find them,
and all I can do is watch lightning play on the water,
which rises in foaming crests and then crashes down
on the gray rocks of the shore with a sound like thunder
that I recognize as the beating of my own heart . . .

(The image is Blown Away by Winslow Homer.)

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Tell Me Your Name

Tell Me Your Name
by Theodora Goss

Tell me your first name. Tell me
your last name, the one your father gave you,
your patronymic. Tell me your middle name,
the one you don’t like, which was also
your grandfather’s name, which he did not like either,
going always by his initials. Tell me your mother’s
maiden name, which you use as a pseudonym
on the covers of your novels.

Tell me the nickname you went by in high school,
and then the one you went by in middle school,
and elementary school. Tell me what your parents called you
when you were too small, they thought, for the mouthful
written on your birth certificate.

Tell me the name your first girlfriend gave you,
as well as the one you gave yourself in your blanket fort,
your secret name. Tell me, additionally, your superhero name,
your Indian chief name, your policeman name,
the name you had when you were a pirate,
when you were an airplane. What was your name
on your fake i.d., on the debate team, in law school?

What did your first wife call you when she was pleased,
and when she was angry? When you were in bed together?
What was your name when you became a father?
What do people call you when they think you are someone else?
What is your name in dreams? What do you call yourself
when you wish you were someone else, an airline pilot,
a CIA agent, an artist whose models are in love with him?
What does your mother call you, even now?

What does your dog call you when he wants to go out?
What name do the mountains use when they summon you?
What name does the rain know you by? Who are you to the birds,
and to the trees? What name do the sidewalks use
to gossip about you on your way to work in the morning?
When night comes and sings you lullabies,
whom does she sing to?

What was your name before you were born,
the name you had before there were names,
before the stars were made? Whisper
it in my ear, beloved, and I’ll tell you mine.

(The image is The Moon and Sleep by Simeon Solomon.)

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The Thieves

The Thieves
by Theodora Goss

If you will steal for me the stars, my love,
I’ll stitch them randomly on my coat of night,
where they will glitter like a hundred eyes.

And I will steal for you the grinning moon
to put in your pocket, for luck when you want it.
How astonished she will be, to be taken
in such a fashion, from behind her veil of clouds!

Let us be like jackdaws, outcast, impenitent,
collecting our treasures, loyal only to each other.
They will call us thieves, but why should that concern us?

If you will steal for me the autumn leaves
to make a gown in which I can dance with the treetops,
I’ll steal for you the mist that winds around mountain peaks,
like a cat around an ankle, so you can walk invisibly,
as mysterious to others as you have always found yourself.

My love, I will steal for you the sound of water
and the motion birds make as they move through the air,
everything precious and rare. And you, will you steal for me
the solemn music of rocks? I would like to hear it.

Let us steal a house of gray stone, which we can decorate
with our loot: ancient tapestries made of the ferns
from a forest floor, curtains like the ocean,
furniture from the best museums in Paris and Amsterdam,
a mahogany bed shaped like a swan.

Let us be partners in crime, never caught
unless it is together, never betraying each other,
escaping out of every prison they make for us, uncontainable.
If we die, let it be in a blaze of gunfire like constellations
exploding. We shall be legendary.

Already, my love, I have stolen for you
the words to make this poem, which some other poet
would have put to better use,
without criminal intent.

(The image is The Kiss by Gustav Klimt.)

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Bal Macabre

Bal Macabre
by Theodora Goss

Death, playing a mandolin,
asked when I would begin
to join, with Hope and Love, the mad pavane.

They turned in velvet tails,
while antiquated veils
fluttered like wisps of peacock-colored lawn.

I did a pirouette.
Death, in ample jet,
kissed me her hand and smiled indulgently.

I crossed the checkered floor
clutching a battledore
as Art and War were taking toast and tea.

The pillars of that hall,
of quarried marble all,
did nothing but eternally ascend,

a luminescent mist
the hue of amethyst
concealing any place where they might end.

I flung a window wide,
hoping to gaze outside,
and watched a painted landscape crack and flake,

then turned back to the room
where Beauty, with a broom,
was sweeping up the final crumbs of cake.

I leaned upon the wall,
observing the crazed ball,
and saw the grinning figures bow and spin,

then felt myself advance
to join the gruesome dance,
while Death looked on and played a mandolin.

(The image is Valse Macabre by Gustav-Adolf Mossa.)

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Morning Song

Morning Song
by Theodora Goss

Let us away.
The break of day
should find us gone,
and in our stead
an empty bed
will greet the dawn.

Meanwhile we’ll be
beneath a tree
where woodbine twines,
upon the grass
as wild deer pass
through swaying vines.

Beside a stream
we’ll talk and dream,
and as it flows,
a scent will come
to make us dumb
from the wild rose.

A wreath of green
to crown a queen
you’ll weave for me,
a ring complete
of woodbine sweet
pulled from the tree.

I’ll fill your hands
with arching wands
of wild rose sprays
that bloom, like love,
in scented groves
on summer days.

Nor maids nor men
where we’ll walk then,
only things wild:
the stream and tree,
and wandering we,
and deer so mild,
all reconciled.

(The image is Blessed Kiss by Emma Florence Harrison.)

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The Art of Loss

The Art of Loss
by Theodora Goss

I think I’m going to practice losing things.
I’ll start with smaller things like the grocery list,
my glasses, that cup of tea I’m almost sure
I put down somewhere in the living room.

I’ll graduate to house keys, my mobile phone,
the umbrella I bought in the art museum gift shop,
with a pattern of Monet’s waterlilies, that turns
a gray, wet day into walking through the gardens
at Giverny. I’ve had some practice already.
The various things I have lost include my heart,
my childhood, the country where I was born, a language,
countless single socks in the clothes dryer,
several names, a profession, my grandparents.
So you see, it shouldn’t be that hard to learn
how to lose with the effortless grace of a dancer
leaping into a perfect grand jeté.

And yet, I don’t seem much better at it now
than when, as a child, I lost my favorite doll.
No other doll would do as a substitute.
The lack of her was as solid as a fact,
unalterable, an absence that I carried
instead of her and put to bed at night,
singing lullabies to her empty cradle.
So too with other absences, which feel
almost as real as what they have replaced.

Perhaps eventually I’ll be more absence
than substance. Therefore, I’m practicing beforehand.
Today I lost some time, my second pair
of glasses, and something else, I don’t remember
what it was — there’s just a nagging sense
of loss and the thought I must have put it somewhere.
It may have been you, but honestly, I’m not sure.

When I reach that state, when I am a lace curtain,
more air than fabric, or perhaps a set of chimes
you hang in the garden, hollow at the core,
I hope the wind will blow and set me fluttering
or ringing, so there will be something left,
a sound or motion I have not lost altogether,
an echo, a disturbance.

(The image is A Moment of Contemplation by Fernand Toussain.)

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Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox
by Theodora Goss

When I first fell in love with Mr. Fox, he warned me:
You can’t trust me, my dear.
Just when you think I am there,
I am gone, I am nowhere.
Look, I’m wearing a mask. Who does that? Thieves.
By the time the autumn leaves have fallen,
you will mourn my absence.

And yet, I couldn’t help it. After all,
he was wearing such a dashing red coat,
like a soldier. He had such a twinkle in his eye.
He danced so nimbly, holding my hands
in paws on which he wore black kid gloves.
His tail ended in a white tuft.
I knew about the others, of course — or at least
I’d heard rumors. I knew he was no innocent.
I knew about the one who had drowned
herself in a river, her muslin gown floating
around her. I knew about the one who had locked
herself away in a convent.

How does one fall out of love with a thief
who has already stolen one’s heart?
But I was cautious: I went to his castle in the woods.
Be bold, said the sign above the gate. Be bold.
But not too bold. I have never been good
at listening to advice, or taking it.
I was too bold, as usual.

What did I find? First, a pleasant parlor,
with blue silk curtains and rosewood furniture,
perfectly charming. Then, a library
filled with books, from Shakespeare to W.B. Yeats.
A kitchen with no implements more dangerous
than a paring knife, beside a barrel of apples
waiting to be turned into cider.
Bathrooms with modern plumbing, a dining room
that contained a mahogany table large enough
for banquets, but seldom used, judging
by the dust. Where was his secret chamber?
There must be one. On top of a desk in his study,
I’d seen a photograph of the girl who drowned,
beside a vase of lilies, like a memorial.

And there it was, at the end of a carpeted hallway.
I knew what it must lead to, that small door.
It was locked, of course, but I took out my lockpick tools
(if he was a thief, I was another).
It opened easily.

There was no blood on the floor. There were
no dead, dismembered wives hanging from hooks.
Instead, the walls were covered with masks:
fox, badger, mole, boar, weasel,
otter, squirrel, even one that resembled a tree.
All the masks he had worn, presumably.
And on one wall, opposite the window,
which badly needed washing, was a portrait
of an ordinary man with sandy hair
and tired eyes.

I locked the room behind me. At our wedding,
he said, “Are you sure, my dear?” with a toothy grin
that seemed wicked, but was, I thought, a little anxious.
“To marry the dangerous Mr. Fox?” I asked.
“Who knows, you might gobble me up,
but I’ll take my chances.” He seemed satisfied,
and swung me into a waltz. There’s a moral to this story:
ladies, have your own set of lockpick tools. Also,
be bold and wise and cunning,
like a fox.

(The image is Fox and Crescent Moon by Kobayashi Kiyochika.)

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