(Esther A. Howland 1828-1904)
A more famous Mount Holyoke
girl wrote that the most delicious
light doesn’t fall down directly,
but whispers a little to each branch
while slowly descending, and she
agreed—tucking love birds under
hinged flaps, stranding pansies
between layers of Dresden gilt
paper trim, complicating hearts with
real lace ribbons and accordion
springs. When the orders started
pouring in, a line of women
with paste pots sat at a long table
beneath a skylight, tasks assorted
and sundry but clear. One cut out
pictures and one fastened forget
-me-nots, while others arranged
overflowing baskets and resituated
quivers. Whoever happened to sit
at the head of the table that day
was put in charge of painted silk
and satin centers as well as slivers
of silver mirror-scrap (future
basins for undisclosed faces).
Tho she gave all her workers
great license to vary and leap,
the word she preferred remain inside.
Possibly her greatest tribute to
romance: never marrying.
(Edmonia Lewis 1844-1907)
Four foot tall, odd thing out west in Oberlin.
Desirous to be accepted, she offered two fellow
tenants cups of spiced wine, but when both girls
fell ill, people started muttering. Wild injun negro,
half and quarter breed, deliberate poison-er. Devil's magic.
As she walked back to her room one winter night
pondering whether or not her newest thesis
had fallen into ancillary concerns, a mob drug
her to a nearby field, yanked her hair, kicked in
her head then spat and war whooped and dissolved.
Nothing moving, everything back inside, stoves
settling, listless women unpinning brown-yellow
braids in suffocating rooms of sleep and love,
barest crunch of cat paw on frozen grass until
a mostly swollen shut eye caught on a man
in butler's tails and woman in moccasins
moving though town then past the depot into
the forest. After hours of no traceable path, but
up-turned roots, bramble and thicket, the air
around them suddenly thickened and diffused
sun tentatively climbing up Cypress branches
til it grew bold—brightly hitting the undersides
of horses pulling carts of lumber and cloth
towards the bustling din of a great domed city.
Moving through its intricate cobblestoned streets
with ease, the couple finally stopped before the
door of a small studio where an artist wearing
a red cap soon appeared. After pausing a moment
she welcomed them in to stand beside all the bodies
her hands had coaxed from stone. Surrounded
by the flood of torso, brow and limb, the couple
grew quiet, man gently touching Cleopatra's foot
—woman softly asking how many lives such
perfection demanded—as she started to rush
to them—Don’t try to move just yet.