The Admirer

Claudia Emerson Click to

claudiaClaudia Emerson (1957-2014) was a long-time Contributing Editor to Shenandoah. LSU Press has published six books of her poems, including the Pulitzer winning Late Wife, between 1997 and 2015. A second posthumous collection, Impossible Bottle, is due out this fall. She taught at various colleges in Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University in her last years. She also served as Poet Laureate of Virginia and was one of the cornerstones of Shenandoah for a decade and a half. Her poem “The Admirer” first appeared in Shenandoah 50/2.

September, 1926, clear

He had before come courting – with pecans
or peaches, berries. She had those times been able
to thank him with one of her pies and be
done with him. For this, though, he would want
supper, to sit at the table with her
after supper. For this, she reckoned he had
spent most of the morning emptying
the sky of its plenty: the doves spilled from
burlap in iridescent disarray,
three dozen at least, a shimmering

bouquet. And so the afternoon was for her
defined; the hour deepened the mound of feathers,
blue-grey, plucked in porch-dusk, and the wind,
disinterested, would once in a while stir them.
She knew they were easy to bring down
over a field where they would fall into
the tangled grasses and go on on flying against
what had been wind. Easy – as this was not:
feet, gut, heart, the smooth brow with eyes open
like garnets glowing; she cut and tossed over

and over what was in the end useless
onto the feathers, a last and bloody bed
or to the cats, who growled and circled her,
to keep the peace. A dove would amount to,
at best, a half-dozen mouthfuls, the dark
breast tender but grizzled with shot – black seed.
She threw a whole bird to the nursing cat
and wondered whether the white kitten had opened
its eyes; if they were blue, it would be deaf,
she had been told and told she could not let it

live. She would see about that. Her mother called down
how are they coming. More work than they’re worth,
she answered back, for such a little meat.
Even with the birds still baking, yet to be
eaten, with still the biscuits to stir up
and gravy yet to make from the meager fat –
with a strait hour to pass before he would
lean back from the table to pick his teeth and sigh –
she had decided he should have left the doves
their beloved sky, for she would not be won.