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Timothy Steele
The Middle Years


The subway station flashes from the dark;
Its name and its wall panel ads coast by.
She grips a handrail, poised to disembark,
As the car stops and settles with a sigh.
Doors slide open. She exits, and the stairs
Record the scuffing hurry of her feet;
The escalator past the turnstile bears
Her steeply up a tunnel to the street.

The scene should look familiar, yet the sun
And the walk's harsh scintillae make her wince.
She senses that she could by anyone-
Not a museum's Curator of Prints
Who has a pair of cats and PhDs,
A widowed mother whom she calls each day,
And, for the past few weeks, anxieties
That she can neither pinpoint nor allay.

Work reassures her somewhat. She reviews
And signs off on the Annual Report;
The Office of Development has news
About a donor she would like to court;
A colleague's sent a basketful of fruit
(She helped launch an exhibit he designed),
Topped by a pomegranate, hurt en route,
Whose red seeds gleam within its fissured rind.

An omen, she reflects, may lie in this:
She's been divorced and lonely for too long
And is ripe for a metamorphosis
To a dark middle age with Mr. Wrong.
But, meanwhile, meetings claim her: the new wing
Has sucked up half the budget; painting stowed
For years downstairs need deaccessioning;
The Board wants her to mount a show on Claude.

When she can finally get back to it,
Her office is all dark. The staff have gone.
She looks down from her window. Newly lit,
The streetlamps have soft gold coronas on;
The park looks eerie in autumnal mist.
Hearing doves flap and coo beneath the eaves,
She blesses sadly their romantic tryst.
The door falls locked behind her as she leaves.

She stops off at the florist's, then descends
Into the subway. Waiting for her train,
She shuts her eyes: stock's heavy, rich scent blends
With rustlings of the bouquet's cellophane.
Air rushes from the tunnel; people see
A light approaching. She prepares to board,
Though feeling like a grave Persephone
Reluctantly returning to her lord.

© Ohio University Press / Swallow Press

Timothy Steele    14.08.2009

Timothy Steele