Friday, April 27, 2018

"Victoria" by Mary Soon Lee

Victoria
Mary Soon Lee
           'Tis better to have loved and lost
          Than never to have loved at all.
                 --Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"A Pleasant Stroll" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
That first year Victoria wailed like a banshee
whenever she went to the forest, alone,
sometimes three or four times a week,
berating Joanna for the eighteen months they'd had--
Tennyson entirely wrong,
far better not to have had those months
than to find herself alone at fifty-two,
alone but no longer suited to it,
her single toothbrush
an exclamation point on the sink.

Elsewhere, she contained herself, behaved,
assured her brother she was fine;
indulged in dessert;
taught dry-eyed at the community college,
eradicating all mention of Tennyson from her classes;
maintained the garden with military ferocity,
measuring gaps between tulip bulbs with a ruler.

Time passed, as it does until it stops.
She went to the woods more rarely.
Sometimes her wails took on the cadence
of a professional keener,
rather than a never-married widow.
Sometimes she held her silence,
tramping through dry leaves
or over thin sheets of snow.

Two years in, one of Jo's brothers visited,
told her she should make new friends.
As if, Victoria told him, as if I could,
but she pointed out she was hardly a paragon of misery,
she who shamelessly savored pastries,
she who'd read ninety-three detective novels
that first year.

Four years in, she took early retirement,
experimented with watercolors,
started a book club,
planted six dozen daffodil bulbs, all higgledy-piggledy,
replaced her copies of Tennyson.

Poet's Notes:   Victoria is an imaginary woman whom I've used in a number of poems centered on an equally imaginary book club. This poem takes place before the others and describes a part of Victoria's life before she started the book club. 

For the record, I like Tennyson. I first met his poetry when I was about seven years old. I loved "The Lady of Shalott" so much that I learned it by heart. Perhaps it was a few years after first reading it that I memorized the poem--it's hard to be certain--but it was during my childhood. I'm a little rusty now but I can still remember most of the poem. 

Editor's Note:  The text of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" may be found here https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45359/the-lady-of-shalott-1832.

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