Margaret Mackinnon: “Henry James in Venice”



I see ghosts everywhere.


Years later, he spoke of it: how
he’d come alone, save for the gondolier

who rowed him to that farthest spot—
out past the high, circling birds,

hard glint of angled light on windows,
gilt and rose façade of the city he’d left behind—

city that did not want the dresses of the dead.
And so, he’d come to drown them here.

He threw armfuls into the sea—piles of dark brocades.
And at first, they sank. As they were meant to do.

Then, wavering, indistinct—
like black balloons, he saw them. Rising, rising

to meet him here: sleeves, bodices
now filled with water and floating all

around, like bodies—
like ancient creatures who’d made the long return.

And they had come back to him, he thought.
Fenimore, Minny Temple: those women he’d

loved and lost. Dear friends he’d failed, of course,
as we will always fail the ones we love.

Still, it was all brought near again, as if
gift were another word for grief. A kind

of happiness in the light flickering on waves,
in the voices he heard again that weary day.

You must tell me something you are sure is true,
Minny Temple wrote. And I think it’s true

he saw them in the shapes on the surface of the sea,
clear and reticent. Now in light, now in shadow—

like the small white shirt my mother
sometimes wore—

how its soft folds held her scent for weeks.
Then I, too, dreamed of water—


Margaret Mackinnon has published in a range of journals, including Poetry, New England Review, Crab Orchard Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Los Angeles Review. New work has appeared in Image, The American Journal of PoetryBlackbird, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Mackinnon’s first book, The Invented Child, was awarded the Gerald Cable Book Award and the 2014 Literary Award in Poetry given by the Library of Virginia. A chapbook, Naming the Natural World, won the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Competition and was released in 2018. Mackinnon recently has been awarded the Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize from Ashland University, and her new book, Afternoon in Cartago, will be published in 2022.

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