Another Conversation

Another Conversation
by Theodora Goss

Over time, he said, as you get used to me,
I will become less interesting. And he smiled,
as though he had said something important,
provided some insight into the operations of the world,
when all he had done was forge himself an invisible
suit of armor, so someday he could remind me —
remember, I told you you would get tired
of me in time, remember I warned you
you would eventually find me as predictable
as a book you’ve already read, or last year’s fashions.

I did not know how to tell him that, certainly,
over time I would start to find him as tiresome
as birds returning each spring, or as clouds
that gather and disperse, always the same yet different,
or as water drops forming streams, rivers, oceans,
or the leaves on a sugar maple — all similar, each exquisitely itself,
or the proverbial snowflakes, not one in a winter alike.
He would have thought I was being melodramatic,
making promises I could not keep, human nature
being what it is. So instead I told him
he was underestimating me, and left it at that,
trusting time to show which one of us was right.
Meanwhile, dusk fell, as it always does, and the moon
rose, as it has for centuries over this city,
shining faithfully on the rows of apartment houses,
the park with its wrought iron benches,
its pond on which two swans were sleeping, heads curled
under their wings, its linden trees
releasing, once again, their scent into the darkness.

(The image is Bonchurch, Isle of Wight by John Atkinson Grimshaw.)

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The Artist’s Wife

The Artist’s Wife
by Theodora Goss

She made the appointments, writing them
in a black ledger: Mrs. Sutton-Jones,
Countess Baransky, the Honorable Maude Rudge.
She was the only one he trusted to clean the studio.
He would not accept a maid, who might be careless
or even worse, curious,
touching his paints, his palette, or his easel,
on which the Honorable Maude was propped,
drying into immortality.
Sometimes he asked her to mix his pigments,
stirring the powders into linseed oil,
cadmium, cerulian, umber,
sienna, veridian.

She has never put a brush to canvas,
but in her daughter’s bedroom,
painted ivy climbs one side of the fireplace,
winds in a riot of curls and tendrils
over the mantel and then trails back down
the other side. Among the leaves
hide squirrels and robins.
Above the mantelpiece is an owl, staring
with eyes like moons.
Low down, close to the floorboards,
a black cat slinks toward a mousehole,
so lifelike you would expect it to arch its back
and rub against your ankle, meowing.
The curtains are embroidered with red poppies,
the bedspread is appliqued
with silver stars.

She will tell you that her husband is the artist,
not she — that she just likes to work with her hands,
sew and embroider, even paint a little,
nothing serious, decorative work.

When she and her daughter bake together
in the kitchen, so much smaller than his studio,
the tea cakes are shaped like roses
with icing made from powdered sugar
and carmine.

(The image is Karin Larsson by Carl Larsson.)

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Flower and Butterfly

Flower and Butterfly
by Theodora Goss

It was lovely while it lasted, said the flower.
For an hour, I had your company.
But the butterfly did not answer.
She flitted away silently.
There were more flowers in the field, all equally
beautiful, and filled with nectar.
She remembered only dimly
what it had been like to be earthbound,
to crawl instead of fly. She was in love
only with the sky and her own motion,
creating elegant eddies on the air,
sometimes here, sometimes there,
inconstant.

The flower, sighing, dug her roots in deeper,
committing herself to what she had:
moist soil, sunlight falling on her petals,
the wind in her leaves, her awareness of winter coming,
when there would be no butterflies
for even the briefest of conversations,
the seeds she was already preparing
to scatter before frost covered the field,
her presentiment of spring.

(The image is Butterfly and Lily by Ohara Koson.)

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In the Night

In the Night
by Theodora Goss

I wake in the middle of the night, afraid of the dark,
afraid of the hours ahead, of everything
but death, which somehow does not frighten me
compared to the depth of the ocean, the light of the moon,
the mystery of the shapes birds make in flight,
the endlessness of certain minutes, which seem
to last forever, the emptiness of words,
the evanescence of a favorite perfume —

how things can be here one moment, then suddenly gone,
how we can work a lifetime without reward,
how another can truly see you, then turn away,
how easily a hand can slip from yours.

I lie in darkness, with the sound of the ticking clock
segmenting time, and tell myself it must mean
something, although I have no idea what.
Meanwhile, the moon drifts in the sky above
through her veil of clouds, while a flock of wild geese cry
as they pass overhead, and waves continue to crash
on the wet gray rocks like an ancient lullaby,
and slowly, as dawn approaches, the stars wink out.

(The image is Woman with Pillar of Flowers by Odilon Redon.)

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A Conversation

A Conversation
by Theodora Goss

I think of you
whenever I walk by puddles, I told him.
That was because
he is always drawn to reflective surfaces:
pools, ponds, lakes, mirrors, windows.
I think he is constantly looking for, and looking into,
another world, deeper and stranger than this one.

Great, he said. I’m the guy who reminds you of puddles.
That’s a compliment, I guess. Could be worse.

No, I wanted to tell him, you’ve got it backwards:
it’s the puddles that remind me of you.
If there’s a compliment here, it’s to the puddles.
Imagine how they would feel, being compared
to such an unfathomable sea.

(The image is The Puddle by M.C. Escher.)

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Christmas Night

Christmas Night
by Theodora Goss

In the cold, dark night, a woman is giving birth.
She is young and beautiful, not much more than a child
herself, and all the stars are looking down
to watch this event, the most important on Earth.

Hear her crying out in joy and pain
at the miracle that happens once but is repeated
throughout history, the birth of a savior, who is both
flesh and myth, Christ the Lord and Jesus the man.

But at the moment he is a wet, slippery thing
squalling in her arms. This is how it begins
for us, this is the narrative that redeems us
over and over: the child born in a stable

on straw, to poverty and a perilous life,
at the fulcrum of the year, when winter seems
endless, when hope is lost and we resign
ourselves reluctantly to death and darkness.

He is the infant searching for his mother’s breast
as she smiles through tears, and the eternal return
of light and warmth, a promise that spring will come,
love will endure and sins will be forgiven.

Meanwhile the stars, who are old and wise, look down
with wonder and mirth. They have no need of salvation,
unlike the kneeling shepherds, the three kings
winding their unlikely way to Bethlehem.

(The image is Madonna and Child by Marianne Preindelsberger Stokes.)

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The Haunting

The Haunting
by Theodora Goss

Since you have gone away, I seem to see
your face in all the places that I knew
before we met. A wind blows through the birches,
stirring their leaves, the color of your eyes.
Their branches catch my hair, just as you did.
I cannot seem to get away. The stream,
running over the stones, sounds like your voice.
I feel your touch when brushing past the ferns.
And in the house itself, the empty rooms,
the piles of dusty books, the billowing curtains,
are haunted by your absence. Unkind ghost,
come back to all the places where we walked
together, to this house, the garden sleeping
beneath the sunlight. Come and haunt me properly.

(The image is Spring by Heinrich Vogeler.)

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