The Lady of Shalott Dreams of Peace

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

–Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I lie down in a boat the color of poppies.
The island recedes, the tower’s long shadow.   
The upper room has already forgotten me,
where I rode out these wars, believed
myself safe. My mirror has forgotten me,
reflecting just that window I was forbidden
to look through. The trellis, the grid of vines.
That lonely, late bee going in and out
of the mute, orange trumpets, and beyond,
the spires I thought were Camelot.
Even my loom has let go of all I made
from what I thought was pictured in that glass.

Today I turned. Today I turned and saw
beyond the tapestry, beyond the glass,
beyond the lattice, the bee, the bright leaves.
I saw the rising smokes of Baghdad, New York,
Dresden, Portland, Jericho, and Thebes.
I turned. The mirror where I once conceived
myself innocent cracked from side to side.
I turned again and partway down the stair
that fabric, lovely, intricate, unreal,
heaved up and flew and floated from the loom
and raveled in the wind of my leaving.

Now, in my boat, I dream of the fish below,
weaving through the green of submerged weeds.
A dragonfly hovers above the water,
a thin flame of blue, a twig of light.
Its wings are fast, no reed to rest upon,
invisible, a blur of stillness, a prayer-wheel.
It casts no shadow. I am sick of shadows.

Who are we? Just frightened children
who glimpse ourselves in the glass and find
we are the monsters under our own beds?
Or is that the face of god? In my dream
my boat is a cradle in which a baby sleeps,
remembers warm breasts and the smell of milk.
The boat is cold, wants to rock, to keep
the child asleep, does not want the baby
to wake up to the dark, wants to enter
the child’s dream, wants no longer to be
the shape of a spear-head, the color of blood.

Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Jeanne Emmons

Jeanne Emmons’s collections include: The Red Canoe (Finishing Line Press); The Glove of the World (Backwaters Press Reader's Choice Award); Baseball Nights and DDT (Pecan Grove Press); and Rootbound (New Rivers Press Minnesota Voices Award). Her poems have won the Comstock poetry prize, the South Coast Review Poetry Award, the James Hearst Poetry Award, and the Sow's Ear poetry award. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Scholar, Carolina Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, North American Review, River Styx, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and other journals. She is poetry editor of The Briar Cliff Review.