The Ophelia Cantos
by Theodora Goss
Lilies tangle in her hair: green stems
A disembodied hand
floats on the surface. So much has been lost
already: toes, the lobe of her left ear.
But this remains, a damp, immaculate
sign, like a message saved from the dark current.
She wandered through the courtyard in her tattered
dress distributing wild violets.
She called us whores — your son ma’am, not your husband’s
I think — and knaves — the taxes sir, your cellar
is stocked with sweet Moselle. We called this madness.
Indicia of her innocence: to be
a maiden floating dead among the flowers.
She will become an elegant and mute
image: the sodden velvet coat, the sinking
coronet of poppies, virgin’s bower,
and eglantine. The replicable girl.
(A blob of Chinese white becomes a hand.
The artist puts his brush in turpentine,
the model pulls her stockings on.)
surrounded by the water-lily stems,
her face appears an enigmatic mask:
a drowned Medusa in her snaking hair.
The lilies gape around her like pink mouths,
telling us nothing we can understand.
Her eyes stare upward: dead and not quite dead.
(The painting is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais. This poem was published in my poetry collection Songs for Ophelia.)