She was in mourning for her life,
Masha loved to announce, borrowing a line
from another play. With a swirl of black skirt,

she’d hurl herself into the arms
of an overstuffed chair in the dressing room.
Was it a line you had to be too young to say?

Who knew we’d never hear of that actress again,
who wore out a handkerchief in her grief?
I was handed a wad of shredded silk,

though in that Midwestern Three Sisters
I was the fourth sister, the one in the black clothes
of a stagehand, who hid behind a folding screen

waiting for Olga, the one who taught school.
Out of a corset and into a nightgown
I helped her to change, as if into spinsterhood,

without her missing a cue. There might be a fire
burning in town—she’d call that peace,
for want of a better word. O Iowa City,

Athens of the corn fields! Those young women
stuck in the provinces pined for Moscow
as if for New York, or at least Chicago.

Perhaps even Cedar Rapids with its tiny airport
would do. Me—I’d never been so far east before.
I stood in the wings waiting, I thought,

to relieve the colonel of a greatcoat as heavy
as his marriage so he could philosophize
about the future. He was about to be ambushed

by love. A freight train whistled, cutting through campus.
There was a sudden chill: someone backstage
had stealthily opened a door on the world

painted out in our absence. Nothing moved.
On a cherry tree that had dared to bud,
in silent fury a late snow fell.

—Debora Greger

A Message from the Editors

Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 2, on page 36
Copyright © 2023 The New Criterion |