Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Last Rose of Winter"

This poem came out of the February 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from rowyn and e_scapism101.  It has been sponsored by mdlbear.

WARNING: This is a love poem, but it also touches on some serious issues.  These include class differences, race differences, religious differences, large age gaps in relationships, and character death.  If these are sensitive topics for you, consider carefully whether you want to read onward.


The Last Rose of Winter


Everything about it was wrong
except for the fact that they loved each other.
That was what people said,
except for the part about admitting
that they loved each other and that was all right.
Only Deshawn and Eloise focused on that part.

These are the things that everyone else
thought was so wrong about them:

he was poor and she was rich,
he was black and she was white,
he was Muslim and she was Christian,
he was eighteen and she was eighty-eight.

These are the things that nobody else
thought about besides them:

he was there for her when she fell down
and broke her hip the second time;
she was there for him when he got turned down
for the student loans he needed to finish school

he liked to listen and she liked to talk,
filling the days with tales of her youth;
he liked to read aloud and she liked to listen,
filling the nights with Byron and Amiri Baraka

he didn't trust girls who were too interested in his zipper
and she didn't trust men who were too interested in her wallet;
so they had those things to commiserate over
in the company of someone who wasn't so darn pushy.

Deshawn and Eloise didn't much care
what people thought about them:
he was young and black and poor
so people were going to hate him anyhow;
she was old and white and rich
so people were going to suck up anyhow;
they might as well make themselves happy.
If you were rich, you got to be eccentric;
and if you were a rich widow's friend,
you got to go along with that eccentricity.

It started in May,
when they weren't expecting
anything of the sort to come of it,
when Deshawn arrived as the live-in nurse
to take care of Eloise, who had  plenty of relatives
but none of them would do it.

Deshawn liked the idea of service
because he saw God in it,
which wasn't very fashionable
but was making him a very fine nurse,
and up until he met Eloise, he'd had
the sense to keep his mouth shut about it,
which lasted less than ten minutes in her house.

Eloise had a way about her
of getting people to open up,
which she used to use in business
and didn't need to do any more
because she had more money than
even Midas would know what to do with.

Before Deshawn quite knew what happened,
she had convinced him to take her to his mosque,
and coaxed him into coming to her church,
taken him out to tea with a Duchess from Ireland
and talked him into a long walk on the beach --
wheelchair and all, with Deshawn pushing
and a maid running around unrolling and rolling
long plastic mats to trundle the chair over the sand.

In the summer, they held lawn parties
and when Eloise got bored with tea and tennis,
Deshawn figured what the heck,
and invited some of his bros over
to play basketball around a hoop
that actually had a net on it.
Eloise cheered until she wheezed,
and secretly sent the winning team season tickets.

In the autumn, they switched to theatre --
she introduced him to opera
(which he did not like)
and to Shakespeare's plays
(which he liked surprisingly well);
he introduced her to poetry slams
(which she liked, which did not surprise him;
and which liked her, which did surprise him).

By the time the first snow fell,
Eloise was slowing down.
Deshawn stocked up on medical supplies
and favorite books, and drove her
to her appointments in a classic silver Jaguar
(which had been fitted with a lift for the wheelchair,
somehow,  which made him wince over the idea
of modifying a classic,  but that was her car,
so he hid his reaction very carefully).

He read her Don Quixote's paeans
to the Fair Dulcinea, bits of the Iliad
and Peter Pan, then most of Le Morte d'Arthur
and its sources in his limping high school French.
They read Romeo and Juliet  together.

'Twas the night before Christmas,
and somewhere between
the sugar-plums and the bowl full of jelly
Deshawn realized that the only sound
in the room was his own breath.

They had known this was coming,
but still, he missed her already.

Deshawn called in her death
and carried out the other tasks,
then after everyone had left, stretched out
on her red velvet Victorian fainting couch
and cried himself to sleep.

After the funeral,
Deshawn was called
to the reading of the will,
wearing a suit that Eloise had sent.

Deshawn had thought that Eloise
might have left him a little severance package
because she had kept hinting
that she hoped he would finish school.

Neither he nor her relatives
expected Eloise to leave him everything.

The personal note to the relatives said only,
If you had loved me instead of my money,
I would have left you something.
I'm old, not STUPID
.

She also left him her world-class lawyer,
who turned out to be a middle-aged Jewish lady
with black hair and loud purple fingernails
who thought of defending Deshawn's new fortune
as a grand adventure.

Deshawn had no idea how to be rich,
but there were people who could be hired
to teach all about personal finances
while he was finishing his actual degree;
and he had no idea how to get over
a broken heart, so he buttoned his suitcoat
over it and hoped no one would ask nosy questions.

He did know how to be grateful.
It wasn't so much the money
(which admittedly solved a heap of problems)
as it was the solid proof that Eloise
had loved him and wished him happy.
She'd left him as much wisdom as wealth,
a lifetime of it distilled into notes
scribbled in old leather-bound books
and whispered behind a libretto on a balcony.

Deshawn's mother had raised him right,
so he went to say thank you to Eloise
where the rumpled earth held a mahogany box
and more memories than he could count.
He also said that he'd see her again someday,
even if he had to sneak out of the Prophet's garden
and in through Christ's kitchen where
the angels were making the milk and honey.

If anyone thought it was strange
for a black man in a fancy Italian suit
to be standing in a cemetery,
paying his respects to a white woman, well,
he was entitled to his own eccentricity now
and nothing whatsoever was said about it.

On her grave he left behind
a bouquet of swan-white calla lilies
(delicacy, modesty, magnificent beauty)
and one dark red rose, dried to a perfect crisp
(death before desertion of the adored)

touched by the last of his tears and a few flakes of snow.

* * *

Notes:

Interracial relationships have complications and benefits.  There are tips for making interracial relationships work.

Interfaith relationships have their own challenges and possibilities.  Learn how to make interfaith relationships work.

Cross-class relationships likewise have ups and downs.  There are resources to help.

May-December romance is also an entertainment trope.  Consider the pros and cons of a large age gap, and how to bridge that gap.

Lord Byron and Amiri Baraka are famous poets.

Poetry slams are popular among some African-American folks.

Don QuixoteThe Iliad, The Adventures of Peter Pan, and Romeo and Juliet can all be read online.  So can Le Morte d'Arthur, with the interesting observation that despite its French title, the manuscript is in English.  However, several of its sources are French and may still be found with some digging; some people like to read them together.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas is a traditional holiday tale.

The flower language is a subtle and expressive way of sending messages.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, romance, writing
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