By Randall Jarrell
Her imaginary playmate was a grown-up
In sea-coal satin. The flame-blue glances,
The wings gauzy as the membrane that the ashes
Draw over an old ember –as the mother
In a jug of cider– were a comfort to her.
They sat by the fire and told each other stories.
“What men want…” said the godmother softly–
How she went on it is hard for a man to say.
Their eyes, on their Father, were monumental marble.
Then they smiled like two old women, bussed each other,
Said, “Gossip, gossip”; and, lapped in each other’s looks,
Mirror for Mirror, drank a cup of tea.
Of cambric tea. But there is a reality
Under the good silk of the good sisters’
Good ball gowns. She knew… Hard-breasted, naked-eyed,
She pushed her silk feet into glass, and rose within
A gown of imaginary gauze. The shy prince drank
A toast to her in champagne from her slipper
And breathed, “Bewitching!” Breathed, “I am bewitched!”
–She said to her godmother, “Men!”
And, later, looking down to see her flesh
Look back up from under lace, the ashy gauze
And pulsing marble of a bridal veil,
She wished it all a widow’s coal-black weeds.
A sullen wife and a reluctant mother,
She sat all day in silence by the fire.
Better, later, to stare past her sons’ sons,
Her daughters’ daughter, and tell stories to the fire.
But best, dead, damned, to rock forever
Beside Hell’s fireside– to see within the flames
The Heaven to whosee gold-gauzed door there comes
A little dark old woman, the God’s Mother,
And cries, “Come in, come in! My son’s out now,
Out now, will be back soon, may be back never,
Who knows, eh? We know what they are–men, men!
But come, come in till then! Come in till then!