Dame Alys

“Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have, Thereafter wol we crie al day and crave.” The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, Canterbury Tales, Chaucer

1.

The wife rises from her bath
and smells cabbage,
its aroma strong as last night’s snapper
whose resilient bones
stick in the kitchen sink drain.
The bath water, blue and floral
swirls in the tub;
she lifts her feet, one and one,
and leaves clean, high tendoned prints
on the mat,
rushes, now, remembering
to turn the gas down
beneath the kettle.
If her neighbors looked across,
they’d see her, flat, intent and nude.
She shivers as she measures white sauce.
How much is enough?
No one but the wife is home.

2.

Alice ties her hair back;
everytime she does
her husband loves her thin arms
but wonders in what numbers others
came, adventuring with Alice.
And so he tells her
she might better spend her time
revising menus, doing sit-ups, finding work which pays more:
“Go to law school, Alice,
don’t you know I’m tired
of eggs and mushrooms Friday nights?”
Alice looks into the mirror
seeing no one whom she recognizes.
“Can’t you look directly at me
when I speak to you?” he says.

3.

She pulls on dark red stockings.
Alice came from Cairo
with her morocco leather hand-tooled hassock
flattened in her trunk,
a gift she now gravely gives her husband.
“You may sit on it,
or kick it, as you choose.”
He stands, perplexed.
“I wo”t let you have the children,
you aren’t sane,” he says;
“You haven’t cooked a scrap of meat all week!”

4.

Alice let the long-cold water from the tub,
cleaned the kitchen drain
and took the garbage out.
She stands now in the doorway, dressed.
She holds up in her hand
an egg which had fallen to the floor
and didn’t break.
“I loved the souffle,
you are beautiful,
what is it that you want?” her husband says.
She touches his wet face.
Alice says, “It changes.”
Kathleen Atkins