March 26, 2008

Hump Day Poetry: Susan Aizenberg

Posted in Poetry at 1:10 pm by The Lizard Queen

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 . . .

—Maurice Haigh-Wood


She has everything to give that I want, and she gives it.

—T.S. Eliot




a litany


Incarnate provocation

     bag of ferrets     flirt


     morally insane, frivolous


a silly little woman

attractive to men but not a girl

     to bring to Mother


          shallow self-centered

               a prima dona


preoccupied with romance, gross

          with women’s troubles


               that torture

          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

1905, April


                                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

     in blues—

        violet, aquamarine, gentian, cobalt . . .


Endymion nonscriptus—bluebells.


                                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

                                                          passing, neighborly,


                                among the sheltering larch.



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)


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