William Daugherty

“Oh, William, look! How beautiful!” she said;

and, keen to help, I also turned my head
to see the objet d’art that she admired:
a handsome bronze our gallery acquired
from some estate—two lovers rapt in one
another’s gaze, mote-dazzled in the sun.

“Mary liked this stuff. I never did.”
He was tall but stooped. His right hand hid
his trembling left; a silver pompadour
gave him a courtly air. Her pert couture,
her simple pearls, her much too auburn hair
contrasted with her face, long etched by care.
Yet they had that wondrous quality of old
couples to look alike, from lives that mold
the common set of mouth, the lift of brow,
even the timbre of the voice, as now:

“See how she adores him,” she resumed,
“and how the surface of her cheek has bloomed
with a glow somehow turquoise–and yet–not quite.
Their patina seems to come from inner light.
I love the way he holds her upturned face
as though she’s all there were of time and space.”
He held a lacquered box and tried the lid.
“Mary liked this stuff. I never did.”

She took the box, returned it to the baize,
then turned about to penetrate his daze.
“I’m Mary, darling. William, concentrate.
And please don’t dawdle, dear; we’ll be too late
to see our other things before they’re sold.
I never dreamed when you and I got old
I’d be the one to manage our affairs.
I envy you your world of little cares.”

From my desk, after a moment’s pause
to take a call about a Gallé vase,

I looked again to see him hold her face–
apparently an act of practiced grace–
between his hands and smooth away a tear.

“Everything will be all right, my dear.”
The skylight showed the pair in high relief,
his burnished poise above her lustrous grief.
A band of sunlight shifted off and on.
A smile, a wink, a kiss, his light was gone.


  1. Jo Hawke says

    I really like the poem’s understatement, and the title is perfect: beauty in life’s etching. . . because of it, rather than despite it.

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