Shubad's Crown



    That night we all talked at once
    as usual, until Barbara said,
    “I saw Shubad's crown.”
    Barbara lifted her hands
    to her face and made it rain
    with her fingers, saying,
    “Gold leaves and blue flowers
    in a circlet of leaves.”
    Twenty-five years later
    here is Shubad’s crown
    just as Barbara described it.
    Simpler and more beautiful
    than the shawl of lapis beads
    or the golden-horned lyre.
    Always a knot of people around
    the case that holds the crown.
    Girls in sneakers leaning
    against their mothers (forgetting
    for the moment they are sworn
    enemies) consider the tilt
    of the royal head.
    It is coming back to them
    what a queen is: at her feet
    the whitest pebbles are laid.
    Into her lap, the bluest beads are poured.
    This is Shubad, whose fingers
    swept from bowl to alabaster
    bowl, whose toes pressed
    the pink marble floor.
    Shubad, whose crown of golden
    Eucalyptus leaves and blue star flowers
    caught light, made music
    fixed memory.


      He drifts into the bedroom, neat
      whiskey in one hand
      pack of cigarettes in the other.
      He looks out the window
      that frames the sparkling, frantic city.
      Then the man lies down with the light on.
      He doesn’t know how to sleep well.
      First, he must suffer and lose sleep.
      But, because pain is boring
      he will take up great books
      bonsai, and breakfast.
      As morning and evening
      fall into place, he closes
      the drapes over the window
      dropping the city
      with its all-night talk
      like an old friend who can’t
      tolerate his new life.
      He turns out the light by the bed.
      Next, he must meet the love of his life.
      She is waiting for a prescription
      or a pay phone.
      Their courtship is simple –
      like a Japanese flower arrangement –
      a few twigs and a white narcissus.
      They make it look easy
      like Ginger Rogers dancing backward.
      After a while, they settle
      into a routine: every night
      they take off their shoes
      wrap their arms around each other
      jump off a cliff and sleep.


Someone drops what's left of Barbara's books
on my porch. Four shopping bags
of anthologies and dusty chapbooks.
I pick the Arrow Book of Poetry
off the top, and a folded note falls out:
“Dear Mama (they called her Mama
toward the end): I want you
to read this pamphlet about marriage.
I'm sending one to Daddy, too.

I leaf along, looking for one of her poems
but find none. Here is Axis, a chapbook
with an arty black cover and a memo
marking a passage about wolves.
“January 22, 1986. To: Barb.
From: Jo. Re: Return Kozol collection.
Also need month-end report ASAP.”
I put Axis back and browse
publication dates: 1956:
very young, an art student
noting the slant of afternoon light
in Philadelphia. 1972: black turtleneck,
old raincoat era; beginning
to write poems in her sketchbook.
1974: learning to drive. 1980: teaching
and painting with color, going to church.
1987: three more years.
1988: two more.

I want to discover something new
with her name on it, but find only
“Disembodied Love,” by Martin Maxwell
dedicated to “Barbara, Barbara, always Barbara.”
According to the book flap
he lives in Michigan
with his wife and two daughters.

I close the last book, and only then
do I see her small square hands
flatten the pages.
She's perched on the sofa
wearing a silk wrap
with a pattern of peacock feathers.
A tide of books, papers, and magazines
washes around her feet, which are bare.
Once or twice she lifts her eyes
from the page to consider something
either very close or very
far away – the rattle of milk bottles
the music of the spheres --
and you have never seen
in anyone's eyes, such a blue,
such opacity, such transparency.

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