you were like bits of broken glass when the jewelry box shattered
night & the ocean's coldest shore
noctuary, definition (verb)
1. To keep a record of what passes in the night. 2. To wake from a dream–to begin a series of portraits instead. 3. To depict the beloved and discover cracks in his perfectly white teeth. 4. To experience a heightened awareness of one's senses. 5. To ask, to consider, to be led away from. 6. To examine a familiar painting–to imagine a blank canvas in its place. 7. To select and omit, as a poet would.
The brass locket, which contained only an empty frame, was the first in a series of ominous love tokens that appeared beneath her window.
When he fastened the clasp on her necklace, every nightingale seemed to sing. Their swollen throats and colorless eyes.
He reminded her of Petrarch, driven by the necessity of pursuit. The beloved as interchangeable, a vessel. A bird heaving under the weight of an otherworldly song.
The homage felt contrived, mechanical. And still the luminous buttons on her shirt.
It was then she wished the pursuit would continue indefinitely.
She presented him with a miniature bird, which bore the most unusual inscription. Her wrist still heavy with silver charms and locks of his knotted hair.
She remembered his eyes growing dim. Her fingers tracing the brass locket's empty frame.
Her accumulation of jewelry was one of many bad habits she attributed to him.
Thus his presentation of the earring, with its tiny pewter bird, reminded her of the ocean—its pristine shores and frigid tides, but also the potential for vertigo.
Within her jewelry box, a miniature dancer twirled to the same Tchaikovsky suite. The steps were mechanical, but in another sense, authentic. Its feet had been fastened with tiny silver nails.
She wanted to understand the innermost workings of this strange machine. Their courtship was a system of pulleys, levers, and strings. Behind a little door, the gears were turning and turning.
When they left for the ocean, each of her earrings seemed to glisten. Their intricate clasps and white feather embellishments.
Now the machine as luminous. A benevolent guillotine.
And so she presented him with a tiny golden ring. His watch paused ever so briefly, and then it went on turning.
When he broke the latch on her door, the house seemed to murmur with tiny silver bells. Her locket still glittering on the nightstand.
The restraint inherent in his declaration seemed emblematic, a metaphor. A dark ribbon fastening the pages of an unremarkable history.
Which is to say she ascended a narrow staircase. The corridor groaning with her uneven footsteps.
When asked he would say the patron saint of history had appeared to him. A black ribbon tied at the back of her magnificently white throat.
That was when the music began. In every room a euphony of tiny silver bells.
Now the necklace as love token. As a field of red lilies.
The dream gave rise to a lapse in the accuracy of her meticulous ledger. A velvet ribbon nestled among its luminous white pages.
She remembered only the silver button on his black wool coat. Its lacquered façade gleaming as he ascended the narrow staircase.
The enamel roses on her locket had long since tarnished, but she slept with the charm fastened at the back of her magnificently white neck. Its fractures left faint marks on her delicate skin.
His presentation of the necklace was marked by an unexpected ceremoniousness. The charms, he explained, would document their courtship with unparalleled accuracy. Her head bowed reverently as the nightingale began to sing.
When he reached the top of the staircase, their house seemed to murmur with the most intricate music.
The silver button on his coat had been garnished with an elaborate coat-of-arms. Its painstakingly engraved lion seemed docile, almost delicate, once the light began to fade.
Now the locket as fated. A saint's most daunting burden.
Her name inscribed on the charm's golden surface. Only when she fastened the clasp would the music begin again.
A HISTORY OF THE JEWELRY BOX: GLOSSARY OF TERMS
bird. As in the shape of a charm, which was garnished with tiny lacquer roses. When it collided with her watch, their house would murmur with the most startling music.
charm. An item most often used to evoke memories. Consider the piercing green eyes of the pewter bird that he gave to her on her name day. Its little rhinestones blazing against her black wool coat.
clasp. The broken lobster hook heralded his loss of interest in her formidable collection of jewelry. Despite the infinite variety of her pins and brooches, his trinkets no longer appeared beneath her window.
dancer. A tiny porcelain figure that collapsed beneath the lid of an elaborately engraved box. After his departure, she sorted rhinestones as it twirled on a white pedestal.
field. Meaning the green expanse outside her window, which was overrun with dead poppies. They realized that the landscape, rather than affection for one another, was the source of their inexplicable euphoria.
locket. Characterized by a hidden compartment, most often containing photographs of the beloved. Upon opening the glittering charm, she realized that its frame had always been empty.
I remember the silver button on your black wool coat
& also a dream within the dream
Kristina Marie Darling
writes: Five other collections of my writing are published or forthcoming: Night Songs (Gold Wake Press
, 2010), Compendium (Cow Heavy Books
, 2011), The Body is a Little Gilded Cage (Gold Wake Press
, 2012), Palimpsest (Patasola Press
, forthcoming), and The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell (BlazeVOX Books
, forthcoming). I've been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale, and the Vermont Studio Center, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation.
thanks Ravenna Press
, who is publishing Darling's Melancholia (an Essay)
(2012), for their kind permission to allow us to print this excerpt. Please feel at liberty to visit their site for this and many other excellent publications.