Sunflower Skins

September 14, 2008

Dreams of Vincent

Filed under: poetry — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 10:33 pm
Steepletop, New York: 1949
Decline to put life into fourteen lines:
Edna St. Vincent Millay walks in her garden, the path worn smooth now, after years of
loving and living so well.
Seven hundred acres of grass softened into mud, feet slipping across dew to the secret
cabin. The secrets of this woman, hidden in the forest, in her writing fortress,
secret words and secret lovers;
Roses and honeysuckle separated by time lines—
When did you plant this one, and this, this too?
Measuring your life by the flowers underfoot.
She writes an illegible scrawl, dictating her last will and testament, her eyes dripping
Morphine and her stomach bloated with unborn children, her head aching and her
liver ruined by drink & sleeping pills & painkillers &—
Her heart broken amongst the poets of Europe and her lovers lost in literary magazines of
witty irony, forgetting everything except these cruel letters of having and not,
Her sexual frustration burned into an ivory dildo that horrified darling sister, now too
tired to rub as she once had, and their morals shocked at the abandonment of
acceptable social behaviour,
(Naughty Vincent! Nude photographs for Norma’s grief!)
Her stomach wrenching and her fingers shaking, she counts her drinks and records her
cigarettes; who else is there to do it now? He’s gone and been gone, been gone
and gone—
She writes & she writes, the Pulitzer next to notebooks, pages and pages scattered across
the hard wood around her bed, lying with the intravenous pierced into my heart;
But in the beginning, and the night until the end,
Your red hair shines, Vincent.
You stand at the bedside revealed, asking, asking just this once, and you are more
beautiful now than in all the past.
Camden, Maine: 1892
A tiny baby to Cora Millay, bringing the love her husband would and had abandoned.
Two more to follow, these girls watching their eldest sister protect and comfort dearest
mother, beloved teacher of all things sweet and right.
On the seashore where the rockweed grows, you play the princess, you define the
prowess of life to come: prowler of the mainland, encourage the ever-brightening
And begin to make sketches, poems written in half-letters for Cora, Norma, and
Kathleen, the beautiful girls shaping your life’s roots; begin loving them through
your words, begin turning into the storm that will overtake this war-torn & jazz-
riddled America.
Shakespeare took your breath away.
His sonnet is no rival to your own.
You learn & you learn, each editor fancied whose fondness for you becomes piety—bow
down before the young student, eager to be such a lover, to dance the Renascence.
New York City, New York: 1920
Serenading, smoking, seducing; a ghost of the determined heart privately shattered and
disillusioned by politics; a mind too clever and whimsical, bestowing grace upon
your drama queens and magic dreams; coyly, fiercely, teeth set into the poems—
Reading deep and slow, deliberately: “Is that really my voice? Quite lovely, isn’t it?”
Pitying you not, they fell in love, confessed it and sent it, little packaged tokens of desire
which passed for you most casually. Swooning turned to devotion and possession,
men of newspapers and women of Vassar all contented and condemned to lie at
your feet.
At the party, paired with the most handsome man in the room—Eugen, love of your
life—and of all those competing, he won the prize; married in a hamlet far away
from the big city, sisters at your side, mosquito netting in your hair.
Loving him, twelve years your senior, weak and pleased, planting the seeds of life,
beginning together, planning to reap what you sow.
Or in Boston seven years later, walking the death row picket line, wooden letters of
protest on your shoulder, arrested, harassed by Republicans, thrown into a jail cell
to confirm your commitment—to ensure your heart’s dedication—sitting on the
cold floor that night, tired & tried, do you still believe as you did? Do they see it
at all?
Or does the girl poet disappear in the morning?
What lips your lips have kissed, and here, and why;
But laughing on the beach, sand in your skin, you were happier than ever before, no
matter how many men.
Sanibel Island, Florida: 1936
To the shoreline, wind whipping, seagulls crying, your legs strain to run against the
thirteen thousand miles distance home—
Turn back, see flames.
Every word you wrote has changed into ash.
What kind of memory do you have, Vincent? Were you able to set down everything
you’d missed, letter by letter, player by player? When you think of the rude fire,
Do you think of yourself stepping into it, walking through the blaze; do you think of
yourself becoming the inferno, the orange flames licking singes of your hair—you
are scarred, burned, remember each sentence as it should remain in your head;
branded black spots on your fingers from the pen’s ink, the rhyme repeating itself
and you turn over in bed.
Is this when you truly rise up, when you set free your call? Though the pain you will
suffer—remembering, writing, your arms weak and your nerves pinched, falling
out of moving automobiles, used up by life—though you will suffer pain, your
grasp on the heart of Bohemia is loosened forever this time as you leave behind
the earthly place.
This is when you left us, long before real death. After such a truth with Ugin, it was
impossible to enter that which we inhabited; you made the world your own
because it is difficult to live as others do, it is difficult to live—
So carve letters in and find home with him;
Immortal as the words you engrave,
Hold them to your pale throat.
Steepletop, New York: 1950, 2006
Edna St. Vincent Millay walk in her favourite garden as best she can. Sickness and grief
have slowly warped her body to a shape dimly reminiscent of herself, of the
century’s treasured poetess who cast spells on her readers, her devotees, her
friends, her family.
Your tiny lyrics were already wrapping the world round before this day came, before you
ever fell in love with him. Can you hear us at all? Telling you to stay?
Stay with me.
And all I could see from where I stood
Was you, standing on the stair below me, offering a hand.
It would be so easy to follow.
I dream of the written life and the imagined one, of where you really are and what you
really were; of you in the seeping darkness of these nights—I dream.
As dawn starts to break, decline to put life into fourteen lines:
See an image of a girl I know, see a silhouette of Steepletop against the sky.

1 Comment »

  1. This is wonderful.

    Comment by I. Cant — September 15, 2008 @ 12:12 am

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