by Susanne Dubroff
In a letter to your father you enclosed
a sketch of your honeymoon.
In the stateroom on the ship
cruising the Nile, two figures side by side,
as in the famous sarcophagi,
but separated by your notes,
“July 12, 1892
You are taller. Your long hair winds
around your soft body toward graceful ankles.
Your eyes look to distances more promising.
Henry is wearing a tiny hat,
earmuffs, and an oversized suit.
His eyes, his short helpless arms
drag him down.
Sea captain’s daughter,
your poet-mother adored you,
didn’t want you tampered with,
but died when you were five,
“But oh my child,
example ask thou not,
thy mother’s love shows
not the ripened flower,”
to which, years later, you answered,
“I’m appalled to think how well
I understood her suffering.”
There were rumors your fiancée
had put you down for knowing Greek.
There were no children;
you travelled widely.
Henry James craved your company,
called you “a Voltaire in petticoats.”
In 1885, when your father died,
you were forty-three, a gifted photographer
who used potassium cyanide to commit suicide.
Your husband said, “I’m going to keep
straight on. I shall come out all right,”
commissioned a sculpture inspired
by the Goddess Kwannon. St. Gaudens
shrouded a thick-wristed Italian boy in a blanket;
the great statue of copper and bronze
would tower over your tiny ghost, keep its secrets.
Copyright © 1997 by Susanne Dubroff