Michelle Detorie


(after Julie Speed)

It might be that she really does want the neighbor girl
          to marry her adopted son. Or perhaps she is pregnant
                    even though she has never been before.
But what if the girl (the woman) is not a neighbor
          but is in fact a maid. Perhaps, when the mistress
                    has been out, she has handled her
underthings while standing by the dryer. Perhaps
          she has opened drawers and discovered
                    voiceless velvet boxes, tins of costume jewelry, the initials
on the handkerchief hiding her collection of blessed medals.

And if the girl is cross, who will blame her—the aprons and frayed
          hems, the scuffed shoes and spools,
                    and that woman's desire: that fool boy
who always wears a hat—impertinent rabbit ears—
          and pinstriped—impatient—slacks
                    (and that absurd blue man-face mask!)
The way these three move through this house—
          it is as though they are in a corner.
                    The way cornered, they move.

(The windows curve in convex rooms. The corners
          close, she draws them in, swiveling
                    the outer rim of her belly, rotating them all in its mirror.)

Until one says "He is not even half as old as I—"
          Until another says "Mother, come away from that cold window."
                    Until a third says "Untie yourself."
For the angles must complete themselves—
          for they are willing. The boy and girl—fractions of winter—
                    must multiply, they must begin again:

                              "To turn away from you, mistress,
                                        some thirty degrees, is, in fact,
                                                  a betrayal of our infatuation."


I wrote this poem after looking at several pieces by artist Julie Speed. One piece in particular, Blueboy, appears to be composed of both cornered curves and curved corners. It features three figures, and it seems as though the electricity between the three of them is what affects this sense of slopes and awkward diagonals. I wanted to write a poem which used voice to evoke a similar effect—a sort of triangulated circling. It felt vaguely Victorian and oblique (like the characters in the poem)—making a line of poetry, a thing that appears straight, bend and turn. It was then that I realized that the picture fascinated me mostly because the movement of the lines in it reminded me of the way lines of poetry move—a sort of "textured air" composed by turning lines.