Sarah Arvio

Two poems by Sarah Arvio
selected by Amy Paeth ‘08


Did I have a genie or a daimon
to usher me onstage or sweep me off,
my own dear harbinger or usherette?

Curtains! came a cry, and the curtains shook.
Here was a masquerade en abîme,
a hidden histrion hamming my lines

deep in the jewel box of my drama,
angeloform, deiform or magic.
O angels ruffling your wings in the wings,

which of you is my own special angel?
Why not have the courage of Coleridge
to say it was a dream or a vision;

it might be a wish or else an anguish,
it might be an image or a language.
Was it anecdotage or sabotage,

was it chanson or could it be chantage.
Historical or else hysterical
or else ancestral or angelical.

Was this the character I often shunned,
so sultry and desperate and ravaged;
was this the character I often wished,

oh my little magus oh my cabbage;
was this verbiage or genius or madness.
No rehearsals: you get only this chance,

one call for this life, one cue for this love
(know how to bow in and how to bow out),
you did it or you didn’t, that’s the play.



It wasn’t the life I would have wanted,
had I known what sort of life I did want,
as if anyone ever knew; though I

did know. Everyone had her shadow life,
her should-have life, the life she should have had,
all those thoughts sharp-sharking into her soul,

all those doodles on the skin of the day.
The shame, that this had been and this had not,
could-should, kowtowing to the life of should,

the shock, let’s say, of seeing it had passed,
the chagrin, let’s say, the savage chagrin
that this was what it was, et cetera,

who did I think I was, et cetera,
the queen of Sheba in her shantytown,
or Shirley in her temple (such a doll ),

or Scheherazade waking to the day—
not Sylvia, not the sylvan huntress.
The whole shebang was a shambles, hello,

shanghaiing my wishes, shout it out, shout,
those stories of what was and never was,
love, voyage, give me succor—sugar—suck—

hushing the heart and shushing the senses.
Hello, day, shake the sheets out, wake the day.
Cheers! (As I said this I was choking up.)

The challenge of cheerfulness—hello, charm—
charade and charm, chameleon, cameo.
I saw the dawn and fell into a hush.

from Sono: cantos (Alfred A. Knopf 2006)