Fall 1991, Volume 8.2
Poetry

SHERWIN W. HOWARD



From the Diaries of Emily Winthrop


(The verses below are from a larger fictional narrative which tells the story of Emily Winthrop, an aging actress from Utah, who kept a written record of her last days as she starved herself to death in a London apartment. The complete work was presented as a play at Utah State University in 1988.)


Wednesday, January 11

All day
I lay on my back, pinned
Like some drying mantis
In the collection of
A demented child
Some will say my death began
Eleven days ago; not true
Dying is a subtler art
We spend our lives rehearsing
I first discovered Shakespeare
Under rain soaked attic roof
When twelve years old, my brother
Read King John's bold bell and book
With passion unconceived
Yet sprung completely armed
From the wrinkled poet's page
Sir John and Larry, Edith
I, have never realized
On stage the scenes we children
Played that afternoon, our set
Wherever mind established
Character and destiny
Ruled by wondrous rhetoric
That opened long-stored boxes
Confronting dust and glory
That day began my dying
 
Monday, January 16

I am more tired this morning
Each task takes effort and
I fell refilling a water glass
But broke nothing
The night my grandmother Willerson died
I sat by her bed, holding clenched fingers
Soft in my own, counting each whispered breath
She was eighty-seven
Authentic pioneer
Brigham-called to travel
But failing settlement
Returned to Bountiful
To farm, raise children, die
Nor change her homespun faith
Even to bury dreams
Her doctor's medical advice withheld
Meals in trade for quickened final rest
Old, ill, for the first time lacking wonder
When her dying craziness begged food
The nurses took me from the room in tears
Railing at gods who so diminished soul
He who steals dignity
Is the world's true devil
I've not listened to records today
Outside sounds are symphony enough

Wednesday, January 18

Marie, I hope you understand
Daughter of my glorious minstrel
Hope of all your mother's dreaming
Brave blue eyes that flinch at nothing
Yet brim full tears at summer starlight
Laugh as angels point me homeward
I hold me no brave example
Except of games you should avoid:
Learn how fools may squander pleasure
Keep your own heart held on course
And ignore all these platitudes
When warm rains come in shining May
And you rush to splash in puddles
I take leave while I'm still mistress
Not Roxanne begrudging Cyrano's plume
You who share all joy and sorrow
Please look kindly on my exit
Saving you my senile illness
Hiding aging debt's embarrassment
Grant my scattered ashes seaward
So I still may be remembered
As rain that nurtures new spring flowers
Or soft waves nibbling children's toes
I love you, Marie
Even as sleep comes close and more
 
Friday, January 20

It seems my arms, legs
Are sulking somewhere
Great will is required
To summon them to
Even simplest tasks
Still, mind remains clear, transparent, crystal
What dreadful words
Describe God's dwelling in the human frame
My senior English teacher
Grey, sober Ruth McFarland
Ancient past the age of forty
Stern keeper of the vigil
Taught us that mind and reason
Were true measure of success
Classmates laughed behind her back
Faint, foolish, old-maid teacher
But I believed her scribbling
Was true as God's own summons
At my graduation hour
She asked to hold my year book
And wrote across her photograph
One day, my pride will claim
We met along your way
To greatness, fame, and honor
Even now, I track failure
By her strict conjugations
And apologize, Miss M.
For weakness of your vision
And mine

Wednesday, January 25

Pleasuring in solitude cannot destroy audience
I once played Mother Courage
To an orphanage in Bristol
The warden thought he'd bought some Mother Goose
As epic entertainment for his charge
We persevered through second act
I sang my children killed by war
Then felt the pianist hesitate
Mid-verse, soundless auditorium
In darkness two grey shapes up risen
Small frightened girls stumbling toward the stage
Where shyly, not daring words, they risked
Young hands to hoist my lifeless wagon
Then stood as I began the song again
Salt tears streaming orphaned face and mine
All children live with loneliness
And we are all children
When I had written this
Today, my fingers felt
As if they'd turned to sand
Which slightest move of hand
Would drift across polished
Plane of death's dark table  
 
Sunday, January 29

So cold
Even at noon
The sky is black
I almost came a Catholic once
Terri to that faith inclined
And when I left his lustful bed
He joked I might audition
Forsaking him, what was there left
But habit topped with white gull wings
And glory to declaim each fault
Before God's patient audience
His suggestion was too late
When I had just passed nine
On a dim spring morning
I was baptized Mormon
Immersed with reprimand
To never sin again
But sainthood did not last till dark
By afternoon, I shared sight of my navel
With blushing neighbor boys who'd wagered
Girls would lack such body part
I took their sensuous pennies
As salary for my Salome
Now night strains to dissolve my soul
And gods care not a whit for
Empty acts so lovingly remembered