Paper-thin prayer thing,
neither shawl nor veil nor scarf nor cape:
swaddler of babes and believers:
to leave you is to grow up.
I loved being swaddled
in your black and pearl gray lace,
such womanly colors for a pre-teen who received
you as a keepsake from her mother
on a trip to Spain, each tiny knot in the cloth
pulled tight
by some bent-over crone in a rocker
in the Canary Islands or sullen Andalusía.

We fingered the mantillas in the box,
leafing through them like a book,
speed-reading for fineness of texture
and design, proportion and holy aspect,
that day we walked on the Gran Via, two
pious knock-outs—como hermanas se parecen—
shopping for church garments, head coverings
to wear to Mass, long gauzy shimmer
draped over our bare shoulders
so as not to offend saints, or arouse priests.

See how I profane your lace, pull it
around my neck in a jocular noose-knot,
its anarchy of frills bursting from my staid collar
in funky irreverence,
a flourish to amuse our grown-up son,
whom we will meet
for lunch
at Hattie’s
if he’ll have us.

The knot at my neck—
It’s not irrelevant. I remember now.
It has a sacred, insubstantial use.
I tied it loose
to remind myself to pray—only tentatively—
not to presume,
not even to hope.

The Effects of Intemperance

—after Jan Steen

It’s the usual story, the mother has fallen asleep, too bored
And exhausted to notice what is happening around her.
All the lights in the house on: TV’s, computers, radios
Alive with violence and sex; the children—mine,
But not mine—
Running around naked,
Shouting casual obscenities,
Laughing the careless laugh
Of the young.
A pig presides in the center
In a manger full of straw, and before him,
As in a nativity scene,
Parade the lusty children
Heralding him with roses
As they grab each other’s pricks
And romp.

The parrot on his perch
Repeats their chant:
Hail the pig! Hail the pig!
Hail the pig!

I am dreaming the dream of helpless inattention.
The pig is real.

Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty

The crone has come.
I’ve seen her before. First,
as a Rubens madam, holding
the light to Delilah and her barber
castrating Samson with a haircut, each fallen tress
pulling her gap-toothed smile a little wider.

Once in a procession of shepherdesses
in an adoration scene by an unknown Neapolitan,
she hovered on the hillside licking her chops.

I know her, too, from Leonardo’s sketches,
each sepia line a record of some love lost or
never won, her face a map of disappointment.

Recently I found her in the painting by Pompeo
Girolamo Batoni, obscure but potent on the museum wall.
She is haggard but muscular, unashamed
of her bare shoulders, her gooseflesh neck
twisting as she reaches for the kill.

Though old, she is vigorous in obeying
orders. From the shadows she yanks in
the dark like a stage curtain, whips
out her craggy arm, swipes at the still
pretty lady in late career.
The crone has come.


Peg Boyers is Executive Editor of _Salmagundi_ magazine and author of _Hard Bread_, a book of poems. Her second book, _Honey with Tobacco_, will appear in April 2007.

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