—for Lynne McMahon
In her bedroom,
she set a convex mirror on a stand,
so that when the visitor
expecting to see the familiar
line of lip and brow,
what appeared instead
was the head up-ended—
the mouth a talking wound—
the eyes, upside down, fluttering,
like the eyes in the skull
of a calf slung on the blood-hook—
or a baby's lightning blink, dropped low
in the bone cage about to be born
Walls washed down with the cold pardons of the nurse.
Gem green paint restored from old scrapings.
Here and there, a trifling, a lightening
beyond the author's original intent,
which was in the drawing room, positively spleenish.
From razor bits of palette, touch-ups: Mrs. Woolf's favorite color.
The Trust ladies place the still-ticking brain
of Leonard's wireless next to the empty brass stalk
with its single blossom: old black hat
she wore like pharaoh gazing down
the Nile-green Nile.
the flat drainboard of a face
set so fiercely against the previous
owner's trompe 1'oeil beard and jug.
The simpleton's request: a picture of her young—
So the trees walk up burning,
the birds speak Latin
for the dull-witted, drenched palette
the glimpse of whirlwind in the pond
where their handfuls of ash
the great mown meadow next door
where the Rodmell August Fair is on.
My daughter astride a steam engine,
bored as any child
with the past. Later makes an X
(her favorite letter) with two sticks
held up to the window
of the great writer's garden study.
But the mirror standing in the air
a glass knot tying and retying itself
would repolarize, and she, drawing near,
reverse herself. A woman's rapt beautiful face
drawn downward by gravity, sorrow,
lit upward by the flame of age—
could turn over, floating, then submerge, amniotic!
Across the green from the bedroom window
she saw it: a fin cleaving dark waters—
"and that became The Waves." The ladies sip and look.
laughing, crosses the garden. Two women
walk among the hollyhocks with shears.
The hedge dented by one's fluttering hands.
Inside her sister's body: fluttering hands.
Annie's white sweater catches
on the thorns of blackberry canes. I pull her free
then pick six little ones, busy, like the swarm cells
of a fetus. Or the enlarging failure in those rooms,
unchecked growth: death-drawn, claustrophobic.
The wind, up from the South Downs,
blew the two women across the garden,
their shadows like crossed sticks. Sisters.
One shrugging slightly, a loose mauve shawl.
Where her sculpted head sits now, a stone wall.
She sat at this table
eating mutton and bread.
He was talking about the socialist initiative
and she turned away: someone was knocking
at the window. It was the French photographer
we surprised on our way out,
shooting the forbidden
interior through the dark glass.