The Devil, Oblique Angles and Polka Dots
Your host shimmers
beyond the margin of this page
as my fingers tap-tap you from the dead.
It takes you a while to snap into focus.
You remind me
of a day when I was eight,
or ten, at most,
the day I got lost in the woods.
How I blubbered and wailed for you!
When you finally found me—
a snot and hiccup spewing fountain
– not pretty.
“What took you so long?”
It was strange how you appeared, seemingly out of nowhere;
haloed in spring beyond the green fog of young birches,
your sudden presence, not reassuring – not at first –
“why did you leave me?” I cried
all the while, you, unruffled, reproached me: “Shame on you. A big girl crying
like a baby. And for no reason at all. Don’t you know that God
is watching over you, Detushka?’
Aha! This is where I should invoke the DEVIL.
Yet, there is no need,
for he’s here, already, lurking.
in the detail, wearing
your best navy polka dot dress – what else –
the one you were buried in.
The one you had kept shrouded, when alive,
in a film of translucent tissue.
How well I recall the day:
me, six years old and agog
for the morbid. For hadn’t you whispered to me:
“I’ll tell you a secret – something you should know
for when I’m dead.”
Of course I was disappointed! A DRESS? IS THAT ALL? Polka dots!
What the devil! I should have / could have exclaimed, but sure,
at that age I didn’t know any better.
But no, it is you, not the devil I see hovering just there,
where my eye does not dare
appearing to me as you did that day in the woods:
light streaming over your left shoulder, oblique, aimless—
the light, of course,
not the shoulder, for the shoulder, even lopsided,
knew where it was heading.
Heaven was always your destination,
as I knew only too well.
And I knew, equally well, there was no place for me
astride a puffy cloud my nose buried in your soft breast
gleaning comfort from your old woman smell.
My place was in the woods. Kneeling on a bed
of prickly pine needles.
Of course I hated that icon of yours;
that dead-eyed, flat-faced Madonna
and her miniature child simpering at me in his nakedness
when all I wanted to do was sleep
while you, awake at the crack of dawn, genuflecting
praying all the while:
I hasten to Thee,
O Master, Lover of mankind, and by Thy loving-kindness I strive
to do Thy work
… and oh, how you worked!
digging the permafrost. Building His canal,
the one that went nowhere.
GLORY, GLORY THE REVOLUTION!
and I pray to Thee: Help me, O God, at all times
Did he ever!
But, perhaps He did, at that.
What is it they say about God and burdens? He did help,
after a fashion:
by the time I was born, your once dainty feet,
He had magic-ed to the size of a man’s,
and your delicate hands to that of shovels.
and deliver me, O God, from every worldly evil thing
and every impulse of the Devil OHO, HERE WE COME
TO THE CRUX OF IT:
WE CAN NEVER ESCAPE THE DEVIL.
Yes, I fed him tasty morsels to do my bidding – unknowingly –
I made him promises,
offered him rewards,
without knowing I was doing any such thing. Like the time I cut
my Barbie’s hair for him
(he liked her shorn of course, her eyes, hence, more visibly dead).
You see; the Devil was honest that way. And a good teacher too:
no more worship for me at the altar of Barbie! That’s why
when your icon fell off its perch
I knew IT WAS HIS DOING!
So what if it was my rubber ball that hit the shelf where the icon rested,
Madonna and Child no longer serene above the ever-burning flame?
even the Devil needs a helping hand.
|The Devil, Oblique Angles and Polka Dots is © Sue Cosgrave|