Mary Alexandra Agner’s The Doors of the Body travels through ancient Greek mythology to more recent folk tales to ascertain and exclaim in the vatic, sometimes fierce voices of women: Athena, Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and even darling Clementine. Poems like “Sweets” and “Oh My Darling” reveal the dark underbelly of our well-loved tales, in a world where Sleeping Beauty escapes her fate—while others are not so lucky. Her musical writing, in poems both free and formal, lends a melancholy grace to the pageant of famous dead women.
Oh My Darling
by Mary Alexandra Agner
In my dreams she still doth haunt me,
Robed in garments soaked in brine
I never liked the ducks.
To you they meant good sex, a happy nest,
some safety you had never found
in canyons or in caverns. Or in my own
night-black pit, its beauty why you married me.
I was so sure, as mistress, with husband,
the ducks would stay to keep my father company.
And yet you asked for them as dowry!
You laughed as though your sides
might cave in when you watched me
drive them home. Your scrunched-up skin
made me forget the dashing gent
whose arms divided culture and backwater,
who quoted poetry, who promised one more rush
and we’d be rich enough to leave.
Not so difficult to guess that I was day-dreaming
while wading with the ducks: droppings, fewmets,
fundamentally lousy birds. I fell—
one too many webbed flat feet entwining mine.
There was no splinter.
When I hit the cold, I welcomed how unavian
the water’s roaring was, not loud enough
to drown your laughter while I drowned.
Oh, darling, they were still chording “Clementine”
when you turned out the ducks and bedded down
with my best friend. She took you
to my funeral. I did my Ophelia-best:
bloated, floating, flowers strewn, stems
poking my eyelids, opening them.
I stood up from the shallows. The whole town watched
my body pass, instead of me, upright and grinning.
Tonight, your new wife out, I hover
between you and the window. Your nostrils twitch.
The smell of cold water death catches you
in sneezes. The moonlight makes me visible.
I reach out my arms, shuffle my feet—
duck feathers still cling to my ghostly skin—
and stroke your throat. I would give anything
to strangle you, but that would let you in
this poultry-empty place. Instead, I let go
of your bones and skin and air and wait.
When consciousness crawls back inside your eyes
i am the first thing you will see.
Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. She was born in a United State made for lovers and currently lives outside Boston. Her family tree bears Parson Brown oranges. Her advanced degrees include Earth and planetary science, and creative writing; she’s blessed to have a paying job that utilizes both of them. All her life she’s observed the universe and written about it. She can be found online at http://www.pantoum.org/.