"The Beholder" (latest version)
by Elizabeth Southwood
(c) March 1998
The widow taps her stick as she shuffles
with rounded back around her dusty house.
She's lived there 60 years. Her pale, gleaming
eyes, which stare without sight, reflect silver
like a winter lake. Her hands used to be
always busy, weeding or planting. She
found feathers, driftwood, thistles, and blossoms
she made into wreaths and decorations.
She bought thrift-shop sweaters for a dollar,
unravelled, washed and colored them with herbs
or roots gathered while hiking, knitted them
into pullovers with a designer's
flair or into Irish-style cardigans
with carved wooden buttons. Her biggest thrift-
shop coup was the never-worn ultrasuede
suit of Tiffany-blue she found at St.
Vincent de Paul. From soft, thin yarn she dipped
in dye, she knit an elegant, matching
sweater. Wearing this nonpareil outfit,
her eyes glowed, her cheeks flushed pink with pleasure.
Her house's scent is ancient potpourri.
For company, she turns on the tv
her daughters gave her when her husband died.
On cloudless mornings of blazing sun when
she can make out shapes, she steeps green tea, which
she pours carefully into a cup she
used to hold high to look at the glow of
sunlight through china like through shoji screens.
There's a niche cut in the wall above a
smallish splashing fountain in her white front
hall. When she could still see she dried and hung
there a garland of eucalyptus, rose
quince, lavender, mists of whitest statice,
placed it by a caramel ivory
Kwan Yin who called to her years ago from
a shadowy corner at a garage
sale, choosing her like a cat its owner.
At night the niche is lit with golden light.
She seems to see a few gold sequins dance.
The clouds of statice prickle her hands
as she bids good night. She loves, she savors
the scent of the lavender, and smooths the
ivory with an artist's reverence.
Page 2 "The Beholder"
Cream butterflies flit
past tangerine nasturtiums -
butterflies at rest.
Plum plucked from gnarled tree,
bitten, dribbles purple juice,
signing my white blouse.
Plums thud on the grass
already tasted by birds.
We nibble what’s left.
Glowing scarlet rose
petals kite up in the wind,
skitter over yard.
Cat moves sedately
away from oak, turns, charges
with sharp scimitars.
We all heard him groan,
he who’d purred and spoken mew.
Our tears stain his fur.
Male quail on the fence
watches little ones grubbing,
senses us through screen.
He trills in “our” yard,
feasts on warm sweet summer plums,
huddles in cold rain.
Black shadows move in,
make themselves at home, hiding
bright Greek whites, clean blues.
The trains in the night:
they carried Holmes & Watson,
Count Vronsky, Anna.
Through Copley Square, from
and to, I walked - with you in
starched blood-spattered white.
Her breast, cancerous,
gone, cells like fast-spreading lice,
below smooth young skin,
Fish scales glitter in
sunshine, as fish flop about
on bottom of boat.
On her thin gray hair
she clips a pink peony,
Kissing away hurts,
mother knows works. Little one
watches, learns it does.
Leaves fall from the trees.
The sun shines through. Dusty yards
miss the shade’s cool dark.
A cypress tree sways
in the wind while a dancer
clicks her castanets.
He caught her eye, she
blushed, he tripped, she fell, he coughed,
steadied her and laughed.
The songs you once played,
which haunt our old piano -
loud on moving day.
Books and cups crashed off
shelves, and milk puddled the floor.
Our refuge, chaos.
Baseball pitcher stands
like a matador, timing
his pitch; throws, bat cracks.
Trophies gather dust.
Memories of tennis courts,
of running back, forth.
- 19 -
Motes dance in sunshine,
illuminated like snow
falling through porch light