A poem about a book of the great Romantic poet’s work, and its imagined path through time.
I bought a book of Wordsworth
that one hundred and thirty years ago
was given as a gift on Christmas Day
which I am told was a sultry Wednesday
by the man on my computer screen
and the inscription reads Dear Violet
but says nothing further, as if the words
of Wordsworth expressed affection more than
anything its buyer could write themselves.
When the volume was twenty-six years old
a sister of nine called Violet Jessop
lived through the sinking of the Titanic,
the second of three shipwrecks she survived
to later die in a hospital bed:
congestive heart failure at eighty-three.
If she’d caught a glimpse of that dusty book
in its cardboard box, would she have picked it up?
In nineteen thirty-four, Violet Hilton,
a vaudevillian conjoined twin, shared
a kiss with her fiancé, the first man
to see her as a woman and not just
the burlesque act of Daisy and Violet,
a man who applied in twenty-one states
for marriage, but got denied every time—
where was my copy of Wordsworth then?
Last year, a drag queen who calls herself
Violet Chachki won a trophy during
the seventh season of an American
reality TV program called Drag Race.
She cited her biggest inspirations:
a performer named Exclamation Point
and the constellation Gemini,
but not once mentioned the poet Wordsworth.
When I found the quaint old collection
I saw the bundle of fragile pages,
a scintilla in the back of a box
at a vast book fair. Its label read 10,
presumably dollars, so I asked if
that was the price, and got Have it for five
as an offhand response. I said, Why’s that?
and was told the inscription halved its value.
Today, I gave away the worn volume
to my six-year-old neighbour Violet.
She saw a violet by a mossy stone
as a cloud of jumbled I-don’t-knows,
but when she saw her name in the front,
scrawled with a nineteenth century nib,
her smile read more into those two words
than Wordsworth could ever have hoped.