The Maid Examines the Study         

Dusting the bookshelves, I look out the window
at the blank sky to which I always turn:

empty as always. And so I change the view, and move
to the room full of antiquities, with the portrait

of the white-haired woman whose benign smile seems
to bless my presence, and to question

exactly what it is I'm doing here, as I open
the left-hand drawer of her wide oak desk

and read an old folded envelope, on which is written
in a neat black hand given to flourishes:

"This piece belongs to this left-hand bottom drawer
& is waiting for a special cement to arrive;

it has been ordered—."  We have been waiting
long years for it to arrive, to glue into place the tiny

inch-long rod of mahogany, so carefully
polished to a shine, and tucked into this envelope

which is already turning to dust.  We hate to part
with these bits of our lives, no matter

how long we must wait for the special cement
that will glue it all together, even if it never

arrives in our lifetime, and someone else
will have to finish the job—a partially sewn quilt,

the unfinished canvas, the half-beaded bag,
the words unspoken.  The woman who wrote

this note never suspected that I would come along
to find the epoxy she was waiting for,

glue the piece back into place, and dust off
her parlor's objet's d'art, one by one, examine

her leather-bound books, assess her peculiar taste.
She liked beauty in very small doses:

The yellow ivory sword, rounded at the end,
like a platypus bill stuck in a silver handle,

overwrought brass, sandalwood carved as if by ants,
enamelled curios encased in glass and locked tight.

She wanted a world where each piece would be
sufficient unto itself:  A miniature ivory

heron eating a snake while standing on a turtle's back
would fill up enough space on her desk to balance

the brass Joan-of-Arc gazing heavenward, lifting
her sword to the ceiling.  Her beauty is too demanding,

each piece commanding your full attention: Read me, listen to me,
make me come alive in your eyes, dream me into being.

Like the heavy marble inkwell,
these voices weigh too much.  Besides, it takes forever

to dust off all these beautiful things
and I have many other rooms to finish before I leave.

 —Elizabeth Tornes, Lac du Flambeau, WI