Vienna 1914

Here you are in front of mirrors
naked then clothed in suits of dead fathers.
Here you’ve painted a tree
Which is really you stepping over
fields and fences.

Here you’re a prisoner covered in red coats.
Jackdaws settle in trees outside your cell.
You write, “A single orange was the only light.”

As soldier you do not fight but guard prisoner,
as your uncle Leopold guarded you
with his mustache and cane.

Here your mistress kneels on all fours.
You position her according to large mirrors.
She buries her face, appears headless.
She might be a table.

It is 1914 there are whole towns of women
turned chairs, figurines, pieces of cloth.
The men are heads, hands, shirt fronts flashing.

Because her skin is paper you dab it with vermillion.
Its toxic mercury light breasts, heels, and ankles.
Mined in China, Sin door to Indians,
it is the mark of marriage, more expensive than gilding.

This woman will never wear your mark.
You intend to marry well, one of two sisters.
Their father is a master locksmith.
They walk in clean Protestant light.
Besides, marriage ruins good mistresses.

At news of your intentions she leaves you
in fields of rock with torsos and faces.
Now it is you that kneels, ankle lodged
between two stones.

Sharp toothed artists of Vienna,
you’ve given us men with green faces,
eyes rimmed in red, afraid of losing
their right hand.

They observe it severed in dreams.
They treat it with electro shock.
It jumps and jumps.

Like you we open and close windows,
piece meal pay checks, walk doorway
to doorway dirtying floors.

Like you we wait for catastrophe
and know it has already happened.

Reader Comments

  1. michelle gemma

    hey jane- i really like this! i just finished reading “the world according to garp” and there are several narratives contained within the book, that garp as a writer has published. the first one he wrote when he and his mom moved to vienna after he graduates from school. it’s called “the pension grillparzer”. your poem has a similar feel…

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