Edna Pontellier Undrowned

The old dog chained to the sycamore strained at her tether

and barked into the Mississippi spring.

The dignified, sad-eyed cavalry officer strode across the porch,

his spurs clanging echoes of ancient battle as they struck the warped boards.

The bees hummed amid the musk-scented pinks.

I took the whole delicious Whitmanian inventory

of the dreamy afternoons of my youth

as I swam far out into the Gulf.

Leonce, Adele, even Robert,

with his puling “Good bye—because I love you,”

myopic creatures of les convenances

had any of them seen such afternoons,

dreamed my dreams?

The sea’s touch was sensuous,

enfolding my body in its soft embrace,

so I closed my eyes and let myself sink gratefully

into the deep endless meadows of childhood.

Tall leafy grasses swayed gently

in the light breeze of a sonata by Schubert,

each note supple, serene, solacing,

each meant for me alone,

utterly delicious.

Ah, si tu savais!

Then I saw it was Reisz at the keyboard,

watched her turn and sneer through yellowed barracuda teeth,

“And you call yourself an artist, Madame!”

and I awoke with a gasp to my own drowning

and the taste of brine.

I stretched again and again for the shore,

the lilt of the sonata lost in my frantic panting

and the steady din of the surf.

That din echoes only faintly now.

More vibrant is the el train’s chugging overhead

while daily I walk the city,

my camera, ever at hand, my only companion.

I give myself to New York fully,

and in return it offers itself to my lens.

Some indeed call me artist now,

and I assure them that their praise is, of course, delicious;

but what matters are my pictures,

more my children, truly, than Etienne and Raoul,

and I dote on them no less than Adele on her brood.

The men with whom I choose to sleep

please me well enough,

but never so much as my camera.

Sometimes I see Reisz’s wizened visage in a dream.

I smile upon it fondly, and she seems to smile back,

a look worthy of a picture.

Louisiana thinks me lost in the Gulf.

Let it think so. We’re both the better for it.

Last week I glimpsed Leonce walking near Wall Street,

peering in a journal as he went,

and no doubt eager to get home to those he knows.

As for me, last Sunday, I sat in Central Park,

recalled the cavalry officer’s spurs, the dog under the sycamore,

the bees’ hum, the smell of the pinks,

and knew that the girl in their midst

saw her way through to the stuff of her dreams.

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