by Sandra Gilbert

Page 5

The second poem I'll read gives an alternative answer to that question about the muse that the female poet has. And it's called "For the Muses":

They said I couldn't find you.
They said because I'm a she,
because the s in my name blurs my features,
a hiss around my face like uncombed hair,
you wouldn't be interested.

They said my breasts would hinder me,
heavy, hard to carry, with nipples like blinded eyes.
They said the inflatable rubber cell in my belly
would frighten you, and the lips between my legs:
you'd expect me to eat you up!

But I remember you too well.
You were to immigrant aunts I visited
in the suburbs of my childhood,
keeping house with what you'd salvaged
on the long flight from Paris:

diamonds in the linings of your coats,
embroideries from the 1890s,
Egyptian jewelry, a samovar, old
cashmere scarves, a rosewood wardrobe
larger than the bathroom.

Aunt Rose, your hair was black, it grew in wings from your
Aunt Lil, your hair was white, it circled your skull like a shawl.
You see, I remember.
And your fourth-floor flat, where I visited you, where you
fed me oranges and honey, cakes and wine--

I remember that too: the print
of the lovers in the forest, the witch
pictures on the walls, the plants
that hummed in the dark, the
black feet of the peacock.

You spoke to me there, you told me the stories.
I was yours as much as any boy.
Or more: for the notion of my breasts was yours,
you planned them, you designed them.
And the afternoon you led me to the rosewood wardrobe

and opened the great carved door
you smiled when I myself pulled out the center drawer,
smiled when all that light came spilling out
and wrapped itself around my arms, my thighs, my shoulders
like a bolt of old satin.

"A mantle, not a shroud," you said.

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