March 26, 2008
Hump Day Poetry: Susan Aizenberg
Dedicated to the many “uppity women” in my life: don’t let the bastards grind you down.
—Vivienne Eliot, 1889-1947
Tom’s Bloomsbury bunch called her ‘the river girl.’ They were afraid of her . . .
She has everything to give that I want, and she gives it.
1. RIVER GIRL
bag of ferrets flirt
morally insane, frivolous
a silly little woman
attractive to men but not a girl
to bring to Mother
a prima dona
preoccupied with romance, gross
with women’s troubles
reeking of ether
her voice a shriek—
(it’s true she chose her men poorly:
a lover who found her hellish, loathsome,
her genius husband
with his truss, his vow of celibacy,
his green face powder
and stained lips. Her own face white,
mottled from an excess of bromide,
her eyes vague, acutely sad).
2. BLUEBELL WOODS
Delicious, this absence of pain—
On the smooth pitch behind Father’s
house, the adults linger over cricket. She hears
the soft knock of wood,
low murmurs, laughter.
Inside Martha scrubs
this morning’s bloody sheets, another
ruined lace gown. For once she doesn’t care.
Her head light, gut
unclenched, she sways
past the rhododendron sentries, drifts,
invisible, it seems, across the meadow’s
riotous gorse, wild red vetch,
white stitchwort, pink ladysmock.
She thinks the flowers may be speaking.
Bless Dr. Arnold, bless Mother.
Bless most of all those bottles gleaming
on the bedstand, their strange names—anodyne, bromide—
lovely as the names of flowers.
She moves deep into the woods’ damp
shade, until she’s lost
violet, aquamarine, gentian, cobalt . . .
Sodden leaves and these many
silent, soothing bells erase
the footpath, and because she’s sixteen,
her head cloudy with ether
and alcohol, she feels she’s floating
on azure, a magic carpet
that might take her anywhere. It’s so quiet now
she can hear the lisp of grass snakes,
each bird calling, the hush
and chirr of morning gossip
among the sheltering larch.
3. WARD IN CHANCERY
what they took from her
Photographs she’d lived with twenty years, her husband’s love letters. Trunks of filmy scarves, sheer, petal-colored dresses. Her lacework. Pairs of pastel boots with their many pearl buttons, those straw hats pinned with gleaming fruit, stockings the color of sorbet—even her fascist drag, black waistcoat and cape, the ivory cigarette holder. They took her passport, her driver’s license, her right to vote or appeal for release. They took her powders and elixirs, her car keys, the keys to her flat. Her money. Her mother lined a steamer with silk pillows, packed her diaries and sheet music, the hinged box of watercolors, satin-toed dancing shoes she’d worn down at the heels, French scent T. hated for its female masking trick. They took her books, cartoons she’d drawn, the stories and poems she’d written, her copies of The Criterion, the margins scrawled with purple-inked comments in her spidery hand.
–Susan Aizenberg, 2002
(Published in Muse, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002)