The Ophelia Cantos

by Theodora Goss

  1. Lilies tangle in her hair: green stems

    Like water-snakes.

  2. A disembodied hand

    Floats on the surface. So much has been lost

    Already: toes, the lobe of her left ear.

    But this remains, a damp, immaculate

    Sign, like a message saved from the dark current.

  3. She wandered through the courtyard in her tattered

    Dress distributing wild violets.

    She called us whores—your son ma’am, not your husband’s

    I think—and knaves—the taxes sir, your cellar

    Is stocked with sweet Moselle. We called this madness.

  4. Indicia of her innocence: to be

    A maiden floating dead among the flowers.

  5. She will become an elegant and mute

    Image: the sodden velvet coat, the sinking

    Coronet of poppies, virgin’s bower,

    And eglantine. The replicable girl.

    (A blob of Chinese white becomes a hand.

    The artist puts his brush in turpentine,

    The model pulls her stockings on.)

  6. And yet,

    Surround by the water-lily stems,

    Her face appears an enigmatic mask:

    A drowned Medusa in her snaking hair.

    The lilies gape around her like pink mouths,

    Telling us nothing we can understand.

  7. Her eyes stare upwards: dead and not quite dead.