The Vague She of All the Volumes of Verse
All these things reappearing before her
seemed to widen out her life; it was like some
sentimental immensity to which she returned.
Flaubert, Madame Bovary
At this point she knows she isn’t the same
she as the she’s who inhabit those other
poems. But possibly the nurses assume
she is. It’s even conceivable they suspect her
name to be Emma—“Emma” the homonym
in French of “she loved.” Though she’s sure,
well, she’s fairly sure she did love him.
Briefly. Those evenings they spent together.
Tangled in bed sheets, lights dimmed.
Or the sunny days they floated, arm in arm,
through the rippling, purple fields of Drôme,
heady with the fragrance of lavender.
Once it’s uncapped, memory’s perfume
will cloy or repel. Now she’s in her eighties, either
can serve to relieve the daily tedium.
Not that she’s bored with habitual fare.
It’s simply a truism that anything unaccustomed
will spice the day with its flavour.
In retrospect, she is the synergistic sum
of all the she’s she ever was, and quite aware
these she’s are distinct within her life’s continuum.
But in her forties she didn’t consider
she might, in fact, no longer be the same
she as when she was a girl.
Occasionally, the passage of time
will mock middle age with perverse humour
by allowing vanity to cloud wisdom.
He was eighteen years her junior, the flirt!
She protested eagerly and succumbed
eagerly to this dashing, long-lashed flatterer!
They met in Grignan, at the Clair de la plume,
twenty minutes of wagon-rutted roads away by car.
(Her husband, it happens, was conveniently in Rome.)
He kissed the angle of her neck and shoulder,
led her to the oak four-poster that filled his room.
Shy at first (or was it coy?) she shivered.
But when she unbuttoned her dress for him,
let it fall, she was the blue lagoon of summer.
He slipped in, swam in her warmth.
Because he was her first amorous adventure,
she couldn’t simply revel in eroticism
without construing some affair of the heart.
But just a few months later, alone at a museum,
it dawned on her: she keened from medieval armour
that the tarnished, empty shell he’d become,
he’d always been. A mere flutter of sighs. He’d never
been substantial. All along, it was her own dream—
damsel and knight and forever after.
Forever after. Hmpff! Forever be damned!
That initial, long-ago tryst is just a blur
posted along memory’s grey-scale album.
Like a death notice in the morning paper.
From a coronary, it says. And he was handsome,
still, in his sixties, the photograph confirms.
Strange: though he was her first, he’d seldom
crossed her mind since that dalliance, years before.
The fantasized re-imaginings, now, are welcome.
Yes, quite heartening for a dowager,
these visions and revisions of herself as a vamp—
visions even cataracts can’t obscure!
She knows she’s seen in this nursing home
as a sweet old thing with fine white hair
dozing and sleeping in a clutter of heirlooms.
She’s lived with a benevolent calendar,
is satisfied with her life’s outcome,
and doesn’t mind that she isn’t young any more.
Because she has a past. Because after the prim
sheltered girl of inhibited desire, came a year
of volupté and the passionate Madame.