May Swenson

A daffodil from Emily’s lot
I lay beside her headstone
on the first day of May.
I brought
another with me, threaded
through my buttonhole, the spawn
of ancestor she planted
where, today,
I trod her lawn.
A yellow small decanter
of her perfume, hermit-wild
and without a stopper,
next to her stone I filed
to give her back her property—
it’s well it cannot spill.
Lolling on my jacket,
Emily’s other daffodil.

Now, rocking to the racket
of the train, I try
recalling all her parlor’s
penetration of my eye,
remembering mainly spartan
sunlight through the dimity
of the window-bay, evoking
her white-dressed anonymity.
I remember, as if spoken
in my head: “I’m
nobody! Who
are you?”
how liked by time
she still is. It has linked
the hemlocks closer in their
hedge so that her privacy
remains. A denser lair,
in fact, than when she was alive
and looked through that bay
on the long garden
where I looked today.

Another lady is its warden
now. She smells like bread
and butter. A New England pug-
face, she’s 87, may be dead
before another host of plugless
yellow daintycups
springs next spring in the grass.
(What if one white bulb still sups
sun-time that Emily’s shoe passed
over?) That old
black-dressed lady told
me, “Here’s where
she soaked her gowns in this square
copper boiler on hot bricks.” Whiteness
takes much washing. “Oh, her chair’”
she said, suddenly sprightly,
leading me up the stair
to a blue bedroom, “Mustn’t forget to
show you
that. It’s stored
in a closet.” She brought out
a seat for a four-
year-old, only the cane devoutly
replaced, the ladderback and
legs of cherrywood original.
“An awe came on the trinket,”
one article her hand
would have known all
its life.
“Geneva’s farthest skill,”
I pondered,
“can’t put the puppet
bowing,” and retrieved
an answer,

“I dwell
in Possibility —
a fairer
house than Prose.” Yellow
bells in the still
air of their green room
out there
under the upstair window
mutely swung.
Shining through their cups,
her sunny ghost
passed down the rows.
“A word is dead
when it is said,
some say.
I say
it just begins to live that day.”

To her headstone I walked uphill.
It stands white without arrogance
on a green plot
that is her myth-filled
now. Almost blank. Relatives
shoulder her in a straight rank.
Emily, 130 years older
since you took your
little throne
when you were four,
I crane
but can never
that high chair
where you will ever
sit! Alone.

Self-confessed, and rocking
to the racket of the train,
I play back how
I picked you for my pocket,
stooped at your plain
One gold dildo
I leave you from the host
I stole;
the other, holy,
I will keep until
it shrinks to ghost.
“Disdaining men,
and oxygen,”
your grassy
breast I kiss
and make
this vow, Emily, to “take
attitudes—and strut upon my stem.”

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