The Three Daughters

The first had linen skin. Her shaded eyes
were damson suns, set in a thin vanilla
sky of face: while clouds, as soft as sighs
tousled her chokered throat. A marble pillar,
a rose, some broken rushes, a star-lit gown
to scarf her milky body like a tragic
actress jilted swiftly by a clown -
they framed her. The people called her magic.

The second, raw as pounded steak, had clubs
for fingers, and wore washtubs round her waist.
Bruised by that gritted wind which sometimes scrubs
the skin, she very seldom was embraced -
except of course by ruffians in ragged
cloth, or by those louts with pimply eyes
and snouts instead of noses. She was haggard
as bark. The people named her no-one's prize.

The third, bespectacled, could move her face
through lists of symbols, fingering a cover
of vellum, poised. Or vanish, without trace,
into an avenue of spines. She had no lover.
Neat and perspicuous, she had trained her mind,
caressed her margins with minutiae,
and turned into her sheets replete, resigned.
Of her the people thought to whisper shy.

Mother to these was conscientious, blameless,
who conjured up each daughter like a treat,
and left them after birth, as noisy, nameless
foundlings, never heard them move their feet.
The world, she reasoned, knew their reputation,
fateful or not. By strangers they'd be kissed.
And each of them is sheer imagination:
because, of course, these daughters don't exist.

From the book Rime Present