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Ella Wheeler Wilcox

(5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin)

The Duet


I was smoking a cigarette;
Maud, my wife, and the tenor McKey
Were singing together a blithe duet,
And days it were better I should forget
Came suddenly back to me,
Days when life seemed a gay masque ball
And to love and be loved as the sum of it all.

As they sang together the whole scene fled,
The room’s rich hangings, the sweet home air,
Stately Maud, with her proud blonde head,
And I seemed to see in her place instead
A wealth of blue-black hair,
And a face, ah! your face, - yours, Lisette,
A face it were wiser I should forget.

We were back – well, no matter when or where,
But you remember, I know, Lisette,
I saw you, dainty, and debonnaire,
With the very same look you used to wear
In the days I should forget.
And your lips, as red as the vintage we quaffed,
Were pearl-edged bumpers of wine when you laughed.

Two small slippers with big rosettes
Peeped out under your kilt-skirt there,
While we sat smoking our cigarettes
(Oh, I shall be dust when my heart forgets!)
And singing that selfsame air;
And between the verses for interlude,
I kissed your throat, and your shoulders nude.

You were so full of a subtle fire,
You were so warm and so sweet, Lisette;
You were everything men admire,
And there were no fetters to make us tire;
For you were – a pretty grisette.
But you loved, as only such natures can,
With a love that makes heaven of hell for a man.
* * * *
They have ceased singing that old duet,
Stately Maud and the tenor McKey.
‘You are burning your coat with your cigarette,
And qu’avez-vous, dearest, your lids are wet, ’
Maud says, as she leans o’er me.
And I smile, and lie to her, husband-wise,
‘Oh, it is nothing but smoke in my eyes.’

Submitted: Friday, May 23, 2003

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