The Victorian Age
One thousand lockets minus a lace handkerchief
equals a flock of passenger pigeons, each
carrying a Valentine heart. Seven hundred
ladies’ gloves plus a fishing village
amounts to one temperamental swan and a missing
engagement ring. The alphabet backwards
equals the cemetery on the hill. Marzipan
equals almonds, eggs, sugar, and a scullery maid
weeping into her apron. We’ve lost count
of cravats, hair brooches, and riding boots, traded
a deck of cards for two gentlemen playing
at charades. Top hats can be added to tapioca—
flavor with rum. Two hundred and fifty
petticoats multiplied by twelve chimneysweeps
equals a shattered femur. One locomotive
plus a dozen headmasters comes to a bakery
on Easter morning: hot cross buns with currants.
A dirge equals a dirge. Twenty-seven
daguerreotypes times three overwrought aviaries
is a solar eclipse. Christmas divided by deep mourning
equals burnt porridge. Thirteen hundred orphans left over.
Love Poem with Ebb Tide
I mistook strangers’ gestures for yours—
strangers walking toward me in the sun. Lilacs
tossed by the wind. The tiny bones
of our wrists sometimes ached when it rained,
and Sundays I bought books and artichokes,
thinking why do I have to be so fragile,
I am too fragile. You held my face
in your fingers; pantomime of a wedding
enacted by fireflies. We shielded our eyes
when the harbor was filled with sails. White
sails! And the long breaths of cool wind
from Quebec. I had a feeling someone
was looking for me, but searching the wrong
century. When I went to sea—but I didn’t,
I never went. I just stood on the pier.
You walked by, carrying a lantern.
Karin Gottshall is the author of Crocus, published by Fordham University Press in 2007, and the chapbook Flood Letters, forthcoming from Argos Books. Recent poems appear in Field, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, and in the online journals Memorious and La Petite Zine. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont, and teaches poetry writing at Middlebury College.