by Rita Dove
She arrived as near to virginal
as girls got in those days—i.e., young,
the requisite dewy cheek
flushed at its own daring.
He had hoped for a little more edge.
But she held the newspaper rolled like a scepter,
his advertisement turned up to prove
she was there solely at his bidding—and yet
the gold band, the photographs ... a mother, then.
He placed her in the old garden chair,
the same one he went to evenings
when the first tug on the cord sent the bulb
swinging like the lamps in the medic’s tent
over the wounded, swaddled shapes that moaned
each time the Screaming Meemies let loose,
their calculated shrieks so far away
he thought of crickets—while all around him
matted gauze and ether pricked up
an itch so bad he could hardly sketch
each clean curve of tissue opening.
I shut my eyes, walk straight to it.
Nothing special but it’s there, wicker
fraying under my calming fingers.
What if he changed the newspaper into a letter,
then ripped it up and tucked the best part
from view? How much he needed that desecrated
scrap! And the red comb snarled with a few
pale hairs for God in his infinite greed
to snatch upon like a hawk targeting a sparrow—
he couldn’t say At least I let you keep your hair
so he kept to his task, applying paint
like a bandage to the open wound.
Pretty Ida, out to earn a penny
for her tiny brood.
He didn’t mask the full lips
or the way all the niggling fears
of an adolescent century
shone through her hesitant eyes,
but he painted the room out, blackened
every casement, every canvas drying
along the wall, even the ailing coffeepot
whose dim brew she politely refused,
until she was seated
as he had been, dropped
bleak and thick,
onto the last chair in the world.
Last updated May 31, 2019