In the Vitrine

In the Vitrine
by Theodora Goss

I gave you myself, and you set me
on the shelf where you put all your precious things,
your father’s watch, your mother’s wedding and engagement rings,
the figurines of Harlequin and Columbine
from some famous porcelain manufacturer in, probably, Spain?
Framed ancestral photographs, looking so solemn,
and an ashtray inscribed with your initials
in honor of something or other. What, I’m not certain.

There I was, in the vitrine, important enough to keep
in such a prominent place. But somehow, I became dusty,
faded by sunlight, like the embroidered fan your grandmother
carried for her presentation at court. I began to feel
shoddy, cheap, like a gimcrack prize you had won
at a fair called life. No longer myself,
no longer something I could give freely, confidently,
except perhaps to a second-hand shop.

I hopped down from the shelf,
dusted myself off. Oh, I was not the same as I had been
when I was bright and shining, when I had known my own name.
And yet there I was, not made of porcelain
that would crack or break — no, I was more resilient than that.
I scooted past the sleeping cat and headed out the door . . .
a little worse for lack of wear,
but not broken.

(The image is The Chinese Statuette by Richard Emil Miller.)

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The Photographer

The Photographer
by Theodora Goss

The photographer bought a hut
on the estate of the viscounts of Almansa
from the doctor, the grandson of the old viscount,
a hut that had for centuries
been for the shepherds and their sheep.

He swept it out, painting the walls and doors —
white walls, doors and shutters
in shades of green.

There he would take pictures
of the light as it fell across
the walls, an arrangement of dried flowers
in a green glass vase,
a row of ceramic pots, the persimmons
in the small orchard, still hanging on bare branches
under nets to keep away the birds.

We watched him, the photographer,
a brown, wrinkled man with a black camera
looking and looking and looking,
pointing, sometimes winking at us children.
I wondered, then, what he saw
in doors and shadows,
in wedges of light, or a set of linen curtains,
in leaves littering the courtyard.

Now I am as old as he was,
and I know.

(The image is Corfu: Lights and Shadows by John Singer Sargent.)

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The Thief

The Thief
by Theodora Goss

It happened on a Tuesday.
She stole away
from her respectable self, the self
with duties, responsibilities.
Slouching, she slunk like a common criminal
through back streets, to a café
she had seen the week before and asked,
in a hushed voice, for a pastry, a cup of coffee.
She sat on a velvet chair by a small, circular table
with a marble top, a rose in a crystal vase.

And there,
while the other customers were looking elsewhere,
she stole an hour.
She sat, brazenly licking cream
from a silver-plated spoon
all by herself, for no reason whatsoever
while at home
the laundry was looking for her, the trash bins
were wondering where she had gone.
When she got back to the waiting, impatient house,
where everything clamored for her attention,
she checked her handbag. Yes, there it was:
the stolen hour, still bright and shining.
In the hall mirror, she could see
her stolen self, only a little disheveled.
And she noticed, as she hung up her coat
again, that the old tabby cat
who wandered at will through a hidden kingdom
of back gardens, returning, sometimes, with feathers
in his mouth, gave her, for the first time, a look
of sly understanding.

(The image is Reading at a Café by Jane Peterson.)

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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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