The Gift Bowl

The Gift Bowl

i.m. Janet Wilshire


That there’s no hand or cheek of you
to touch now,
that no dimension of you still exists,
is almost true,
when suddenly, unexpectedly,
I reach you.

This blue-glazed potter’s bowl, for instance,
holds my thoughts of you
choosing the bowl, and your thoughts
choosing it for me—
a compote of fruit more real
than apples or plums.

Just so, your afterlife becomes
as in your paintings, possible.
Not memory exactly, not prosy chat:
“Those were the days,” or
“Then we did this, then we did that.”
Like poetry

your visits are unpredictable,
meetings of minds
free of bodies and words on a common shore
of places and times
I’d say it was our “destiny” to share,
if destinies were

acceptable anymore. Echoes of echoes
whisper in my ear
when I tilt your bowl to distant pulsars
like a radio telescope.
The place is a house with a porch in Connecticut.
The time is the war.

And you are a rosy, enviable schoolgirl
with a wedge of hair,
blond and curly like the shrill trill
of your giggle,
and that high-toned English way of saying “rathah”
we found so comical.

You, your sister and imp brother were our lot,
our “refugees.”
Safe, freewheeling, pampered, you soon forgot
England’s austerities,
and the horrors Hitler was raining night by night
on its gutted cities.

“How splendid it is,” you thought, “to be American,”
noting the friendly
front porches, the smooth fitted lawns
without fences,
screen doors against the flies—red Indians
lurking under surfaces

of city parks and sidewalks. While secretly
I thought England
must be Puck’s land, the marvellous country
I longed to live in
with kings and princesses and boys named Curdie,
and grandmothers who spun

moonlight into magic thread, slippery to the hand
when years later,
it guided me, sleepwalking, into postwar
shell-shocked England,
where, blind to my blindness, I wrapped myself
in your story.

So the days ran by, leaving footprints
on the calendars—
birthdays, wedding days, Christmases
full-stopping each year’s
experiment in adulthood with pagan rites
in a Cambridge rectory

where your mother became mine when
I married your brother,
where the lines of our lives crossed again
when you slipped
the name of my mother over your daughter.
When mine was born,

we were mothers together, reading Persuasion
between baby-sick teas,
planning novels of lives like ours, never written,
weeding peas
in the garden of Woodcock Hill in the interim

And suddenly here you are, fleshed in clay
still warm from the kiln,
a gift from the war, a mystery, a memory
asking to be opened
like Alice’s door, a blue-glazed breakable key
to that vanished garden.