For an entire year she dressed in all the shades
Of ash — the gray of old paper; the deeper,
Almost auburn ash of pencil boxes; the dark, nearly
Black marl of oak beds pulled from burning houses.
That year, even her hair itself was woven
With an ashen white, just single threads here & there.
Yet the effect at last was of a woman
Constructed entirely of evening shadows .
Toward you out of an antique ink-&-pearl snapshot.
Still, it was exactly the kind of sadness
I could understand, & even love; & so, I spent hours
Walking the back streets of Trastevere looking in the most
Forbidding & derelict shops for some element of ash
She’d never seen before.
It may seem odd to you, now,
But this was the single ambition of my life.
I had to give it up; I'd failed.
She knew them all.
To celebrate our few months together, I gave her
Before we parted one night a necklace with a huge fake
She slipped it immediately over her head, & its knuckle
Of red glass caught the light reflecting off the thin candles
Rising by the bed.
On her naked breasts it looked exactly
Like an unworldly, burgundy coal.
David St John
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