Painting of Trees in Moonlight

Painting of Trees in Moonlight
by Theodora Goss

I am painting the trees.
For whom am I painting the trees?
The trees say, this is for us.
It is our portrait. The moon says,
you are painting the trees in my light.
Really, this is a portrait of how I
perceive the trees. I outline them in silver.
The river says, you are painting
the trees reflected in my water.
It is really me you are painting, isn’t it?
The dark mirror of my surface.
Yes, yes, I say, raising my brush
and adding white strokes
where moonlight touches the water.
This is a portrait of the trees
and the river, and the moon, all of whom
may claim it.

But really it’s a portrait
of me without you, and I will send it
special delivery to where you are,
which is too far away. Unwrap it and see
the reflection of your absence.

(The image is A Summer Night, No. 3 by Willard Leroy Metcalf.)

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When You Have Lost Yourself

When You Have Lost Yourself
by Theodora Goss

It takes a while to find yourself again
after you lost yourself in the dark forest,
accidentally letting go of your hand,
losing sight of yourself. “Where did she go?”
you ask the owl, the squirrel, the skeptical fox
who looks at you like a philosophy professor
when you have given an answer so obviously wrong
that he can tell you haven’t read the textbook.
Unfortunately, there are things no philosophy textbook
will tell you, like how not to lose yourself,
where the paths in the forest go, or what the trees
are whispering as you pass — the oak, the beech,
the alder. Are they talking about you, or
the other you, wherever she is wandering?

It takes a while to find yourself — it takes
looking behind each tree, under each rock,
on the backs of leaves, among the meadow grasses,
asking crickets, chickadees, woodpeckers,
calling up to the distant circling hawk,
who can see the flickering tail of a hare as it runs
across a clearing. Perhaps you have hidden yourself
in its burrow, lined with fur, under an oak tree?
Perhaps you have hidden yourself under the roots
that overhang the stream, and only dragonflies
notice your eyes gleaming in the darkness.
Perhaps you have hidden yourself under the litter
of last year’s leaves, or up in the canopy,
which is already turning red with autumn.

And once you have found yourself, what will you do?
I suggest taking yourself back to the cottage
near the clearing, sitting yourself in front of the fire,
making yourself some soup on the ancient stove,
with carrots, potatoes, and beans, flavored with parsley,
then putting yourself to bed and telling yourself
one of the old stories. It is after all
stories that tell us who we are, stories
that remind us where the paths might lead, and how
to talk to foxes so we can ask directions,
how to find the witch at the heart of the forest,
who might, as it turns out, be yourself after all,
stories that tell us what we could become,
stories that guide us home.

(The image is an illustration by John Bauer.)

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The Archaeologist

The Archaeologist
by Theodora Goss

Someday, a thousand years from now,
an archaeologist will find your skull
and say, he must have been a handsome man,
this denizen of the primitive
twenty-first century,
before humanity had sailed across
the black sea of space. She will search around
your resting place for shards of pottery,
sift the soil for evidence of ash,
fragments of bone. She will examine
every stone to learn what kind of litter
society left in its midden, evaluate
all that is broken.

She will recreate
your features based on bone structure,
fragments of DNA, educated
conjecture, and an adolescent crush
on the contours of your cheeks, the elegant
curve of your brow, your jaw.
She will mistake the color of your eyes,
which are only blue in certain moods,
on sunny days.
But in so many ways she will capture
you, as I see you today,
with the kind of beauty that inheres
in the skeleton
and will endure when you and I,
my love, are gone, long gone.

(The images is The Excavation of Pompei by Filippo Palizzi.)

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The Oak Trees

The Oak Trees
by Theodora Goss

The oak trees
clung to the edge of the cliff
or perhaps
the cliff clung
to the oak trees.

They were small, stubby oaks
with the typical lobed
leaves of Quercus robur,
rounded at the tips, and plentiful
as though what the oaks
had not spend in height,
they had invested in foliage.

Each time it rained,
a little more of the cliff
had washed away, leaving
the roots of the oaks
jutting out, like a loosely-woven
basket still holding
what remained of the cliff —
red soil, striated rocks
exposed to the elements.

While the cliff clung
to this rough aerial net,
this set of ancient, gnarled
unreliable hands,
out of fear and love.

(The image is The Rocks by Vincent Van Gogh.)

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Budapest, August 20, 2021

Budapest, August 20, 2021
by Theodora Goss

The fireworks
reached their fingers over the tops of the buildings,
making jazz hands
against the velvet curtains of the night,
red and green and white,
consummate performers accompanied
by a sound like bullets
and a halo of smoke,
as though playing at war
above lamplit streets that remembered
the last one, and the one before.

(The image is Nocture in Black and Gold by James MacNeil Whistler.)

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The Mulberry Trees

The Mulberry Trees
by Theodora Goss

My daughter and I
found two mulberry trees
growing beside the path: one purple,
one white. When I was a child,
I said, on my way to elementary school,
I used to walk by a row
of mulberry trees, and each day
I would pick as many as I could,
pop them into my mouth,
until my hands were stained purple —
probably also my tongue.
That was a long time ago, I said.

But the mulberries reminded me.
The purple ones are deeper, darker,
more flavorful. The white ones
are milder, sweeter. You have to wait
until they are quite plump, almost ready
to fall off the twig. They should come away
easily into your hand. I eat them
completely, even the little green stems.
The problem with mulberries
is that the trees grow so tall, we can only pick
those growing on the lowest branches.
The ones higher up are eaten by birds,
squirrels. Which I suppose is fair,
considering how much we refuse to share
with them in our gardens.

But we were in their garden now.
The magic of mulberries is, they are too delicate
to sell in the markets. If you want to taste
the sweetness of summer, you have to stand
under the tree, reach up, pluck them
one by one from the twigs, staining
your fingers, and probably your tongue.
There is no other way
to eat mulberries, I told my daughter.
She nodded, not really paying attention.
She was reaching, picking, popping them
into her mouth, creating
her own memory of mulberries.

(The image is an illustration by Walter Crane.)

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Poem in Triple Time

Poem in Triple Time
by Theodora Goss

Loneliness and I
were dancing hand in hand
to the stately measures
of a sarabande.

He bowed to me and said,
my lady, sweet and fair,
may I take you to
my castle in the air?

We’ll live on cloud meringues
and crystal cups of dew,
and you, my bride-to-be,
shall learn to love me true.

His eyes were soft and mild,
his manners of the best,
he was, de cap a piƩ,
so elegantly dressed.

And yet I turned and ran
as though from certain death
and did not stop until
I had to catch my breath.

Since then I’ve wandered through
forest and field and town,
worn a hole in my slippers,
torn the hem of my gown.

I’ve made my dinner of herbs
on crusts of day-old bread
and counted myself lucky
to have this food, instead

of dreams and airy nothings
so grand you would not guess
I was dancing with a phantom,
married to loneliness.

(The image is Dance in the City by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.)

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