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A Visit

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“Fine bitches all, and Molly Dance...”
—Djuna Barnes

Come for duty’s sake (as girls do) we watch
The sly very old woman wile away from her pious
And stagger-blind friend, their daily split of gin.
She pours big drinks. We think of what
Has crumpled, folded, slumped her flesh in
And muddied her once tumbling blood that, young,
Sped her, threaded with brave power: a Tower,
Now Babel, then of ivory, of the Shulamite,
Collapsed to this keen dame moving among
Herself. She hums, she plays with used bright
Ghosts, makes real dolls, and drinking sings Come here
My child, and feeling it, dear. A crooking finger
Shows how hot the oven is.

(Also she is alive with hate.
Also she is afraid of hell. Also, we wish
We might, illiberal, uncompassionate,
Run from her smell, her teeth in the dish.)

Even dying, her life riots in her. We stand stock still
Though aswarm with itches under her disreputable smiles.
We manage to mean well. We endure, and more.
We learn time’s pleasure, catch our future and its cure.
We’re dear blood daughters to this every hag, and near kin
To any after this of those our mirrors tell us foolishly envy us,
Presuming us, who are young, to be beautiful, kind, and sure.


March 1958

Source: Poetry (October 2012)

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

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A Visit

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