March 5, 2017

Three Poems by Mary Winslow: "Driftwood Sculpture," "In Auden's Museum," and "Resurrecting Edith Gee"

Mary Winslow studied poetry with Oregon poet John Haislip (a student of Theodore Roethke's). She teaches creative writing and gardening in Lake Oswego and West Linn, Oregon. He poems have been published in several journals, including Avocet, Indefinite Space, The Blue Nib, Switch Poetry Journal, Road Not Taken, and The Antigonish Review. Visit her blog at:

Driftwood Sculpture

Barnacle pockmarked crowns are the color of cement
like postage stamps licked and pressed on branch stumps
most of the trunk was carved by the salt silversmith
skin is cleaned down to bone
plucked tidy by fish
this pew keeled, rolled off on shore
swaddled slick with seaweed, lost its own leaves
smooth bald bark
unique features jettisoned
storm bluster is what makes us old
pod of blue idyll buoys the best parts a while
until leavings fall on shore rejected stone lipped transom
screwed around into a pith of moon-heart wisdom

The youthful part of life turns hardship variegated
then our yarns and folklore go gray desiccated
sea sediments fill the crevices
delving and scarring the core watermarked

Confusion pulls off our grave of vignettes
poems burned into husks
ignorant martinets
smash the shells, scatter the mussel tongues
Godfathered this outward skin
best parts hunkered down in the storm cellar
chased by crimes until in the end what remains
is this stubborn challenged hulk of struggle.

In Auden’s Museum

The museum chooses deft portraits
of yearning smashed
Bruegel’s Icarus – the poor dear
beautiful man-youth who falls into the ocean
heroic after skating
on impulsivity
We cannot bear
to see fragile humanity, Auden says
martyrdom so obvious
the Masters understood
such suffering Auden contends
thus all the others look askance
as the poor dear plummets down.

Next in the gallery
is Miss Edith Gee
of Clevedon
Terrace Number 83

She not the beautiful man-youth
she falls ravaged by sarcoma
but instead of looking away
her corpse hangs
from the ceiling of a hospital
for the entertainment
of medical students.
can ogle her
naked corpse.

What do these two portraits
tell us?
They say that those counted as human
keep their private shame
human deference
only applies to ones who live greatly
and fail.
Scorn, ridicule, and all manner
of humiliation
second class citizens.

Miss Gee
did not earn dignity
or privacy in death
her life was a prayer
petitionary for calm
navigated towards emptiness
flasked her hopes
her harmless simplicity
making no one’s journey anywhere
students mocked
studied, fingered, ripped her muscles to chords
as though she had been so stingy with living
this is the treatment the obscure get
much like Robert Lowell’s Mary Winslow
the crowds gather, plunder her privacy and ogle it
to reap sufficient payment from her
for living in a man’s world
without the protection of glory or love.

Resurrecting Auden’s Miss Edith Gee

In Auden’s poem Miss Gee
Miss Gee is memorialized
without an ounce
of humanity
So I will give her dignity
and flesh and life.
Auden made her a caricature.
I’ll give her character.

I’ll call her a divorced doll
with burned out bulbs of breasts
Black Forest of hair
with its mysteries of mushroom
smells like lemon, salt, and rosemary
she was one of those walking curiosities
collection of glasses
and eyedroppers
a crone in bathrobe
watching TV
always had her knitting
making a baby cap
for the neighbor’s
or a scarf for the vagrant
who begs at the church.

Yes, the Vicar that bull
she handled him gently
with careful avoidance
peddling her bicycle
with its harsh back brake
to announce her arrival
ahead of time.
She told him to collect his temper
She insisted
he certainly must.

When her pain began
after suffering years of humiliation
living without a partner
slicing down her true longings
she hardly noticed the extent of it
until agony had almost gnawed her
in half.

There was nothing
cancer hadn’t ravaged
but such was her tolerance
for terrible people and pain.

The doctor asked her
about her burial plans
and she confessed she had none.
“Throw me in a field
and let the crows have me,”
she said.
The doctor cleared his throat
and proposed,
“You could donate your body
to science.”

“Good idea,” she replied.
“Do what you please with my body.
I’ve no more use for it.”

There are names for people
like that, and Bodhisattva
is one, and yes
instead of a sky burial
her corpse
hanging from the ceiling
was there to teach them all
something about humility.

At least according to Auden
and his ilk that lesson
was presumably lost on them.

©Mary Winslow

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