The Ophelia Cantos

The Ophelia Cantos
by Theodora Goss


Lilies tangle in her hair: green stems
like water-snakes.


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.)


And yet,
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.

Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais

(The painting is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.  This poem was published in my poetry collection Songs for Ophelia.)

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