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A Rival


Names flow from her mouth as so many hearty allies;
she's breezy host to a horde of stars
she keeps and scatters to her liking, Mr. A
of the flawless phrasing, Madame B, who has won
many prizes, astonishing Miss C (recently up
to no good), and sweet Sir X, of whom I may have heard.

Pert, able and a born joiner, she has done well
by a ruthless study of the golden room where
everyone matters, peering through curtains to catch
the unsurpassable swirl of a skirt,
straining to hear the guests' after-dinner laughter
and dancing their measures again and again until
she knew the password and strode grandly in
while outside, bard of the usual, I haggled with the bouncer.

Now, dazzling comes so easily that she seems
always to have been there. Robust with nurture,
she inhabits the room in gowns of dreamiest satin
and often, as parties reach their pitch,
can be seen enchanting kings.
Annoying exile, I scud into snows whose
elegant steeps and hollows I find no voice for,
sit under frail skeletons of trees
whose leafless tops show the sky at its darkest
and whose roots, drowned in soil, can't touch me.

If life's a pose, no one can fairly blame her.
And if, seeing me at the window late one night,
cold from the crazy paths of alien towns,
she shuts it and so forgets me (the distant tyranny
of shadows, the hot gnashing teeth of doubt),
it is ample recompense when, in fragrant flavorful air,
warmed by a fire that has blazed for centuries,
she dips her pen in a lake of ink, and the pen flies.

--Rachel Wetzsteon


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