Or Sarah Winchester, 23 Years Dead, and My Grandmother, Newly Widowed, Speak
The men were paid extra: danger money.
No metal buttons on their clothes, no cigarettes,
In his letters from the South Pacific, he always
called me Honey, made me promise not to forget
no matches. No hairpins for the women—
So many precautions: fire brigades waiting,
to smile for him in the beveled mirror
he'd bought that Christmas—home on leave—
deep wells, until there were hydrants.
Around the factories, even the horses wore
bells everywhere like the sound of ice cracking
when he drove the lake. I'd hold my door open—
brass instead of steel underfoot. Less chance
of sparks. The men worked overtime—
frightened. The months he was gone were
like that. The children in the back of the car,
gearing up for each new war, or maybe
war. Their shirts couldn't have pockets.
holding the shells he'd sent them: speckled around
a tiny curve of breath. Until the telegram,
No stray bits of metal. And still—each year—
explosions, fires spreading until
I kept my promise: smiled as if he could see
my reflection in the bevel of the South Pacific.
they couldn't count the bodies.
Before his ship was only splinters, smoke
As a child, I thought guncotton sounded
soft—like the cloth for a veil.
Sarah Winchester Remembers: Artizan Street, New Haven, 1850s
There was always something being built
In the clock shops, time divided, shifting
Carriage works, mills, the boarding houses
In their rooms, new girls from Ireland
Everyone wanted spindles and tracery,
Stereoscope: Annie Oakley and Sarah Winchester
It began with necessity:
How can I explain
cards riddled like windows
where the wind's eye watches
of fire. Such trust in common
glass—between me and the day:
as any woman should—
sleepless walks through rooms
where the bed isn't, and all
after all—this web around us,
Sarah Winchester Visits The California Midwinter Exposition,
Golden Gate Park, 1894
Surely you did not see the woman dancing
nude at the new aquarium—a thin black veil over
her face, not so unlike your own. The cracking
of chairs as the police came to carry her off—
like a spider in a cup—to somewhere proper.
Were there even fish yet? Were there seals caught
beneath Cliff House—so thick, the papers wrote,
you could shoot them from the veranda if it weren't illegal.
They wrote everything then: back at your farm
you named a hill Strawberry for here—invited
the neighborhood girls to its slope to eat
real French ice cream. That woman, surely,
nude by those glass walls, danced tarantella,
trying to survive the bite of her own skin:
just that veil between the gawkers and
grief. At the grand Egyptian revival pavilions,
a ferris wheel of oranges turned by electric
motor. You could stand underneath—watch
a hundred suns revolve at once: an eccentric
belief that the world stood still here, one room
could hold everywhere. The Court of Honor.
The Prune Knight with his armor: a bloom
of produce bristling from his chest. Sphinxes
with soft plaster noses. Germans—painted
and dressed like Japanese (who refused to be
servants)—running with rickshaws by Dante's
Inferno, House of Horrors, where you could
pay—for a short forever—for your past.
comments powered by Disqus