Victorian Death Portrait: A Mother And Four Sisters - Poem by Patti Masterman
From someplace too far to travel,
Sit four sisters and their mother, kneeling for a picture:
One of them's dead, but for the portraits sake,
They have arranged her there, in an ingenious pose.
The only telling fact, is how her head lies upon her knees,
While the rest are staunchly upright, all squatting in a neat line.
Her dark eyes remain open, swallowing despair,
As only the dead know how to do so well and so unashamedly.
The front of the train is formed by the mother,
Smiling sadly back at the eldest daughter,
A tall, gaunt strong looking girl with sun-burnished hair,
Who smiles evenly in reply. The dead one's knees rests
Against her own back,
And there seems some secret hidden behind their smiles,
Which one is afraid to probe.
The dead girl is next, hunched over, arms on knees, and behind her,
Propping her sister up with thick, chubby knees, is another sister,
This one heavyset, sweating, constrained with effort-
Every feature straining to the task: keeping her sister upright,
From falling over to one side or the other.
She has the same dark hair as the dead one, who was much smaller,
Perhaps having withered away before death, from an illness.
Behind the larger girl, as though nearly forgotten,
Is a little mouse of a girl; with paler colored hair, like the front sister,
And a fearful look is upon her face, as she keeps her head ducked safely
Behind the larger girls back, which she clings tightly against-
Perhaps blocking in this way the appearance
Of her dead sister, in front of them.
Behind the family are many miles of prairie, broken only by the fence;
Some fence long ago rusted to nothingness,
As they themselves are long turned to soot or dust.
The invisible house probably completely vanished too,
Whether it were of sod or rocks or wood,
Giving no hint as to even where it stood.
This single, slowly and painfully frozen moment,
Out of the whole of their strangely enigmatic lives-
Of beauty, vigor, industry, hope and courage-
Is all that remains now.
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