From “Information Desk: An Epic” [Sometimes on my break]

    Sometimes on my break
I’d take my name tag off so no one’d know to
    ask anything of me—such as on the longest days 
of winter break in a slowly chilling
    voice reserved for

when she’d had enough my mother’d
    say, “I’m not your mother”—
and I’d sprawl as she did in our living room
    across the only sofa
in the Museum not
    cordoned off with red arousing rope like

enormous nipple tassels of
    grief and lust and read Balzac’s Lily of the Valley
under the moony
    portrait of Princesse de Broglie,
an aged descendant of whom, staunch
    with flirtatious guilt, asked

me at the Information Desk soon
    after opening on a day
that wing was closed
    for special permission to see that ancestor
she’d been told she so resembled
    but whom she said she’d only

ever seen in books
    framed above a defunct
mantel regal in a long, cold gown
    the infinite blue
of sorrow and wealth. She is so noble as to have
    four necks: start with the most conspicuous

around which gold shows
    her jugular how to throb,
then take that staircase one flight down
    to the throat of her wrist encircled 
in a helix of a necklace of so many
    pearls a mere bracelet is of

insufficient breadth to bed the many
    oysters from whose recurring
nightmares out they rolled, down with which we go
    one further lucent turning to ground-level
viewing of the naked
    body who stood

for the Princesse that the artist could,
    with the trademark accuracy of ice,
drape over a true female anatomy
    that killer silk
to gaze into is to want to
    drown yourself. That’s three—! then

rush all the way back up the staircase to recall 
    in the tremble of her feather hair clip
the retracted neck of the sub-Saharan
    marabou stork in flight—
the “undertaker bird,”
    so called from

behind its back for how much those cloakish wings
    —the largest span of any land bird—
look like a hunched Victorian death-dealing
    a cadaver. Which it is!
    Oh Princesse! Why

don’t I feel more for you?
    Your early death, your blue dress everyone
wants to taste, and the restrained sadness
    that droops your eyelids
as if you’re a little high or hiding
    something big and willing yourself

not to scream. I want to love you, too,
    but I’m too jealous
of how your opera gloves,
    nonchalantly filled with
having just been to the opera, are slung
    over the arm of the chair you’re leaning

on to reveal how your elongated
    ungloved fingers taper
into tips so attenuated
    you could pick a different
lock with each
    and simultaneously enter ten different

exclusive realms of being,
    unlimited by time, gravity,
birth, or money.

Reprinted from Information Desk: An Epic by Robyn Schiff. Copyright © 2023 by Robyn Schiff. Used with permission of the publisher, Penguin Random House. All rights reserved.