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  • Queen Anne's Lace, and: Conte de Fées, and: Scheria, and: Amor Veneris, and: Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre
  • Vanessa Stauffer (bio)

Queen Anne's Lace

In the meadow across the road from the houseshe's growing up in, the girl wadeship-deep in weeds, her unhemmed cuffsstained green in damp dusk. Each fiber makesa wick or a stem, a vein drinking upwater or flame from the softocean smoking mist between straight stalks,the corn neatly rowed as the lines in the booksshe spends whole days in, home aloneall summer in the kingdom ofher mind. Nights she is afraid of the skyhollowed cobalt at its center, pale horizonfading fast, like the bottom dropping outof the carnival ride, the spinning drumpressing her into its curve, the metalhot against her back, her brother laughingwhen she cries. Sometimes her mother makes herzip up a dress from the hand-me-down bagher cousins left behind, poses herin the meadow with a flower from the garden—elegant flag of iris, a tulip's perfect cup—so she can take a photograph. When the printsarrive in their envelope, the girl's smilelooks uncertain, her head turned to follow the cameralike wild daisies swiveled on their stems,tracking the movement of the sunacross a cloudless sky. She looks back & seesthe television's underwater glowlapping the living room windows, imagines herfather sunk in his chair. Her mother slamsthe screen door, keys gripped in a fist [End Page 133] on her way to work, the night shiftstocking shelves inside the grocery store'sfluorescent midnight. The girl picks a cool bouquetshe'll leave by the road: purple poms ofclover the rabbits love, pale petals ofcornflower, starched & papery atop the stem'shaphazard joints. She's gotten tall this year.Soon the dresses won't fit & she'll grow intoanother year of cast-offs, starting junior highin someone else's clothes. The first starssalt the sky. She thinks she seesMars like a punched hole, red-orange as her handcupped to cover a flashlight's lens, Venusdrifting distant, cool as a gem. She picksthe one that shares her middle name,watches how they sway as if adrift,luminous against the vagueleftover light. It could be hemlock,the white wheel spinning ancientprisoners into endless nightwere it not for the shining bead the blossomscircle like a central star—blue as bloodin want of breath, drawn back to the heart. [End Page 134]

Conte de Fées

—Paris, 1881

Mother says I may not draw the menMonsieur has hired to pose.Also I must wear sleeves and skirtswhich cling like the strips of damp muslinwe wind our figures with, the clay kept wetwhen we go home. Then she scoldsmy ruined hems, red-stained and stiffwith dust, my hands stripped dryand cracked. She says None will wantto place a ring on a hand like that.Back home I would not listen but escapeddown Rue Pignon to the woodswhere boulders spill in malformed shapesit's said the devil made. I learnedfrom my first master it's just sandstonefused from the silt of ancient seasand worked upon as all things are:by time and accident, the wind's blond brush,rain the rasp I use to finda figure in a quarried stone.Master has gone to Rome so now MonsieurRodin will oversee our atelier. He sayssurely École des Beaux Arts would have meif I weren't a girl. I know his figureL'Age d'airain—the soldier empty-handed,caught like a breath in the throat.I'd never kissed a man until last night.The others had gone back to their flatsas evening stole down the Seine. Monsieurkept thumbing through my sheets,setting aside the sketches he thoughtshowed immaturity. When I was youngMother once found the figures I'd hiddenand cursed when she saw what they were:nudes I had...


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pp. 133-142
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