by Theodora Goss

If you were in hell,
for the sin of eating pomegranates
or something equally nonsensical,
I would go down myself
into Hades’ stagnant realm,
passing Cerberus, tossing him a biscuit,
and have a talk with Persephone.

Goddess, I would tell her,
you understand longing. You have felt
it in your chest, that piece of red thread
tied around your heart, pulling
you upward in spring, toward your mother,
toward the ground sprouting hyacinths, narcissi;
pulling you down again to your dark lord
when winter comes.

Goddess, give me this man,
although he is bound to your service,
although he has a face fairer than the ships
of the Achaeans and eyes like rain,
which you, who appreciate beauty in men,
collecting the best of them, Achilles,
Hector, Patroclus, must admire.
Give him to me, out of pity,
one woman to another.

If you deny this request,
I will stay here with him, a disturbance,
a discrepancy in the land of the dead.

When she gave you back to me,
I would take your hand and lead you
to the land of the living, never once
looking back, no matter how much I wanted
to see your face. My love
would be stronger than my curiosity.

I would not look at you until
you stood beside me again in sunlight
under the blossoming olive trees
on Mount Ida.

(The image is Proserpina by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.)

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The Resolution

The Resolution
by Theodora Goss

Let him go, let him go, cried the white dove,
let him go, let him go, cried the brown.
Let him fly to the wide blue sky
and circle over the town.

Let him wing his way to the mountains
from which he originally came.
You cannot keep a falcon
that will never be tame.

He was not yours to begin with,
so resolve to let him depart,
and keep, if you wish, the memory
as an ache in your heart.

(The image is Lady With a Dove (Madame Loeser) by John Brett.)

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The Waltz

The Waltz
by Theodora Goss

I am dancing with your shadow in perfect three-four time,
while violins are playing a cacophonous, sublime
waltz that sounds like caterwauling, and the constellations chime.

He has eyes like flecks of silver in a face as dark as night,
and he holds me in a grip that is just a little tight.
I can’t tell if what I’m feeling is terror or delight.

The dancing floor is floating beneath a pitted moon
that looks down in consternation at the madness of the tune,
the precision of the dancers, moving as though one.

The floor is made of darkness, the walls carved out of space,
there are no violinists but they never lose their place,
and your shadow is a vision of sinister grace.

For all my faults and follies, I will try to make amends,
forgive my dearest rivals, confront my nearest friends,
if I can keep on dreaming and the music never ends.

(The image is Les Feuilles Mortes by Remedios Varo.)

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What the Queen Said

What the Queen Said
by Theodora Goss

One night when the waves were whispering
on the rocks of the shore,
and the moon was spreading her wings
of cloud,

I stood at my window and touched
an alba rose,
then spoke what I had been thinking

“Make her as white as this rose-tree
beneath the moon,
make her as dark as the whispering

“Give her a heart that rejoices
when night has come,
and give her also a heart
that grieves.

“Let her dance on the shore in slippers
of tide and foam,
let her sleep in the garden while petals

“I will gladly renounce — ” and I spread
my hands in the dark —
“everything, if you will give
her all.”

(The image is Enchantment by Maxfield Parrish.)

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Invisible Letters

Invisible Letters
by Theodora Goss

Sometimes I write you letters in my head.
I fill my pen with imaginary ink,
go to my desk and pull out a sheet of paper
as thin and translucent as dreams. I sit at the table,
think for a minute, then being to write.

About my day, about how the clouds gathered
like a group of nuns in gray habits and hid the sky.
About how I heard children’s far-off laughter
in a playground, and then the pattering of rain
on my umbrella as I walked to the university,
where I taught my classes dutifully and well,
doing the task I was assigned, but longing
for something more, something beyond this city.
About how I was feeling angry, desperate,
then saw, beside the path through a wooded park,
the first of the snowdrops pushing their green spears
through last year’s leaf-mold, and realized it was spring.
Sometimes I tell you about the future I hope for:
a small house with a garden, a shallow pond
where frogs hide under the lily pads, a cat
to watch the fish. In the mornings, birdsong,
sunlight filtering through lace curtains, the smell
of coffee. Of course, a library filled with books,
including the ones I’ve written, the ones I’ll write.
Sometimes I tell you about my deepest fears,
of death and the dark night, but not too often.
I don’t want to bore even the ghost of you
that exists in my head, as delicate as tissue paper
so light shines through it, and it casts no shadow.

The you that is not mine, that is outside me,
with bulk and weight, will never receive these letters.
There is no postman who can carry them,
no pigeon that can find its way back to you
with a scroll fastened to its ankle.
Instead, they will fall apart like confetti and scatter
on a wind that is no more real than they are.

(The image is Writing the Letter by Haynes King.)

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A Storm

A Storm
by Theodora Goss

The willow is dancing, is dancing in earnest,
above the ripped surface the round lake displays,
unlike the wide privets that stand in fast harness,
responding to motions the wild wind conveys,
while the stones remain steady in silent arrays.

Oh, watch her green mane: it is rousing and soaring.
The lake-surface rises and flings out its hands
and grasps at her tendrils, while swift winds are roaring
and scattering rain in successive sharp strands,
as the stones stand immune from their urgent demands.

(The image is The Seine near Vetheuil, Stormy Weather by Claude Monet.)

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The Willow’s Story

The Willow’s Story
by Theodora Goss

The willow was once a bride, and dressed herself in white,
and veiled herself with laces, and blossoms filled her hair,
but her love he rode for London in the middle of the night,
galloping by the churchyard, and left her waiting there.

She wandered by the river, her eyes grown dull and wild,
her satin gown gone ragged, her white feet bruised and bare,
and never spoke nor halted, but went as thought beguiled
by fairer visions than appeared in common air.

She threw a bunch of posies her fingers did not hold,
she turned to lift a veil the wind would never stir,
and bowed and smiled, then danced about the rain-drenched wold
in invisible arms, and kissed someone not there.

At last, the story is told, they changed her into a tree,
they being whatever gods possess both pity and power,
so on she silently dances, according to decree,
with the wind for her bridegroom, and the perching birds her dower.

(The image is Woman Sitting Under the Willows by Claude Monet.)

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