A picture in a newspaper

She has been burning palaces. “To see
     The sparks look pretty in the wind?” Well, yes—
And something more. But women brave as she
     Leave much for cowards, such as I, to guess.

But this is old, so old that everything
     Is ashes here—the woman and the rest.
Two years are—oh! so long. Now you may bring
     Some newer pictures. You like this one best?

You wish that you had lived in Paris then?
     You would have loved to burn a palace, too?
But they had guns in France, and Christian men
     Shot wicked little Communists like you.

You would have burned the palace?—Just because
     You did not live in it yourself! Oh! why
Have I not taught you to respect the laws?
     You would have burned the palace—would not I?

Would I? Go to your play. Would I, indeed?
     I? Does the boy not know my soul to be
Languid and worldly, with a dainty need
     For light and music? Yet he questions me.

Can he have seen my soul more near than I?
     Ah! in the dusk and distance sweet she seems,
With lips to kiss away a baby’s cry,
     Hands fit for flowers, and eyes for tears and dreams.

Can he have seen my soul? And could she wear
     Such utter life upon a dying face:
Such unappealing, beautiful despair:
     Such garments— soon to be a shroud—with grace?

Has she a charm so calm that it could breathe
     In damp, low places till some frightened hour;
Then start, like a fair, subtle snake, and wreathe
     A stinging poison with shadowy power?

Would I burn palaces? The child has seen
     In this fierce creature of the Commune here,
So bright with bitterness and so serene,
     A being finer than my soul, I fear.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.