Saturday, January 17, 2009

Queen of the Saxons:

The question was not quite what
Do you choose to take to a desert island. Perhaps
They packed all they had – things to cut, surely, axes
And knives, pots to cook in, rope. Or did you buy
Those things once you arrived, to make the journey
Light? Only so much will fit with a man, wife, and two
Children in a horse-drawn wagon. But even if they
Were fairly well-to-do they wouldn’t have left
Certain things – their clothes, and bedclothes – We
Don’t know if they had a dog, or two. We don’t know
If they worried the night before they left. I would have.
I always do.

Surely they had a bible, coming from evan-
Gelical Lutheran stock - but who knows, perhaps not.
There’s an inventory, partial I’m sure, in David’s will,
To his daughter he left bedsteads, beds, 39 quilts and coverlids,
All manner of dishes and cups, a brass candlestick… but
That was after 50 years of living here on Dutton Hill.
In 1809 when they made the trip
From Wythe County Virginia, up and over
Cumberland Gap, I’m guessing they had less.
The trip was planned - there was time to think –
A lot of things to think about, if you were Mary –
What did they take to eat? That reminds me, surely
They had guns.
I suppose that wagon springs
Did not entirely ameliorate the effects
Of rocks on your posterior. Would a lady
Have a cushion, or were they just so much
Tougher than anyone I’ve ever known?
Did she pshaw at Indians? Could she chop
Off a copperhead’s head with a hoe? I’m sure
She could and did. Who goes on something
Called “The Wilderness Road”, back when names
Meant what they said, who’s afraid of snakes,
Or anything , really? She had to be tough
To even make it. I don’t think pioneer women
Were dainty.

So what’s one to make of the only thing
She packed that lasted till
Today. It’s fair to say it was the toughest
Thing of all, and it could be called dainty.
And what’s more it’s pink. It’s growing
In my garden still, an old rose
Called as could be Mary, fairly, Queen
Of the Saxons, “Reine de Saxe” –
A centifolia, which is to say something
Close to a hundred petals of pale
Blush surround a button center, like
A tiny tight wound coil, as though
Little rounds of rose-pale crepe-de-chine,
Soused in the fragrance of love itself, were bound
Into a rose's heart. The whole blossom’s
Not bigger than a silver dollar, and has a
Silvery sheen, but as a flower
It is ravishing beyond price. Like all old roses, the stems
Are arrayed with plentiful thorns, needle small and sharp.
The bush, as roses go, is modest sized – just right
For a garden kept in bounds, but needing little care –
The thing is frankly tough as iron – though not, I’ve noticed,
Inclined to grow for just anyone, anywhere.

Why did she bring this? Was it an heirloom
Of her family, or was it a love-gift – that rarest
Prize, given in courtship by would-be husband
To a much desired wife? Was that the souvenir inhaled
When she brought it to bloom
Again, so pink, so pale -
Here, in her new home?

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