Jennifer Finstrom: Dating in Middle Age

John William Waterhouse, Psyche Opening the Door to Cupid’s Garden


               “The door swings open:
               O god of hinges, 
               god of long voyages,
               you have kept faith.”
               – Margaret Atwood, “The Door,”
Say instead he is the man you met
in 1992. You admired his long braid 
of black hair and brought him free refills 
when he sketched and studied late at night 
at the IHOP where you worked. And when 
you finally went out that summer, you 
ended up back at your apartment where
you played him a poor quality Marlene 
Dietrich cassette and drank warm gin 
straight from the bottle, and somehow, 
at the end of the night, he still wanted 
to see you again. This afternoon he texts 
that he isn’t able to bring the alcohol wipes 
and other supplies he had planned to drop
off because now he’s sick and won’t know 
what it is until tomorrow. He tells you 
to be safe and you tell him the same thing. 
You can almost see your old condo from 
where you live now, and you look in that 
direction, remembering a summer a few 
years before you moved out. You were 
working together to take out a window unit 
air conditioner, can still feel how heavy it 
was between you. You knew there might 
be spiders inside of it, or worse, those large 
house centipedes, and he suddenly tells 
you “Close your eyes. Don’t look down,” 
afraid you’ll drop your end if you see what’s 
there. And it’s hard, and you’re scared, 
but you close your eyes. You don’t 
look down. You still aren’t looking down.

John William Waterhouse, Penelope and the Suitors

 Penelope and the Suitors

               “Grey threads and brown
                pursued my needle’s leaping fish
               to form a river that would never reach the sea.”
                             – Carol Ann Duffy, “Penelope,”
Almost two months have passed since 
the morning you walked a man to the train 
stop by your apartment, the shelter-in-place 
order still some days away. You sat by
the lake for a bit on your way home, 
watching the small gray waves and 
floating gulls above a still winter beach.
You’ve always preferred Circe to
Penelope, never wanted to wait for 
someone to return or not, and that’s still 
the case, but you have a newfound 
respect for Penelope’s nightly unraveling 
of the shroud she wove anew each day, 
can barely bring yourself to pick up
what you drop on the floor or hang up
the clothes at the foot of your bed.

In Penelope and the Suitors by Waterhouse,
the queen of Ithaca is intent on her work,
biting off a thread from her shuttle
while suitors loom, insistent, in the windows 
at her back, one holding a bouquet
of flowers while another plays a lyre.
Fifty-six days have passed in your
apartment, and you’re wearing your
favorite black dress, having a third Bloody
Mary on a Tuesday afternoon, sun
from the window warming your face,
alone as Circe on her island, 
alone as Penelope surrounded by men.

John William Waterhouse, Circe Invidiosa

Circe Invidiosa

     “It was easy enough—
     a thought called them
     from the sharp edges of the earth”
                                       –H.D., “Circe”
You tell a man that poison
green is your power color, 
and he buys you a fan with
a tassel on it in exactly 
that shade. This color makes 
you think of Waterhouse’s 
Circe InvidiosaJealous 
Circe—your favorite 
of his three depictions. 
In it, she is wearing a gown
that’s greenish-black, her 
shoulders bare. Her feet 
are in water and she’s tipping 
a bright potion out of a bowl. 
Her power catches you by 
the throat and grips tight, and 
each morning in the shower, 
you hold your own hands before 
you like a chalice, gathering water, 
imagining that you too are 
casting a spell. You ask for power 
and sometimes you have it. 
The second time you saw 
this man, you told him you 
wouldn’t turn him into a pig, 
that you wouldn’t turn him
into anything. But even as you 
said those words, you knew 
this was a promise that no one
can keep because aren’t we 
all inevitably transformed?


Jennifer Finstrom at EIL

Always a Love Poem (Valentines 2021)

Jennifer Finstrom: Poetry and Divorce

Jennifer Finstrom and Elizabeth Kerper

Jen Finstrom’s Confessions Through Poetry at 14East


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