DIANE WAKOSKI

  

The Purple Rose of Cairo

                                                                                                    "Orion in December
evenings, was strung in the throat of the valley like a lamp-lighted bridge
."
                                       from "Tor House," Robinson Jeffers

How do we learn to live
without voluptuous touch? She watches, over
and over, the man who would take her
to the pyramids.

She is pouring coffee as if it is the fallen
petals of a rose. In her
waitress uniform and Great Depression
shoes,

she thinks of a man whose face is fresh from a barber's shave,
wearing a pith helmet, an explorer
of the lotus-filled Nile,
one who would touch her like exotic scent,

who would come down from the Majestic Theater screen
and brush her face as if he were
smoothing patterns out of sand, as if
she felt petaled, yet textured, like tiger skin.

In her own life, she has only
the movies, but most of all, this one film
with its star,
played by Jeff Daniels, a Michigan boy.

Her life is a melodrama,
with an abusive husband, and her dreams
melodramatic too — a countryclub playboy explorer
who will carry her into the night sky of imagination, onto

as the astronomer said,
"the shores of the milky way,"
across a bridge of stars
fixed like Orion's belt and imagined sword.

It is melodrama because
she doesn't accept her limitations,
leave her bad husband, try to change herself
into someone different.

Instead she dreams of escape that even she
knows isn't possible.
Is this her destiny,
to want a purple rose,

a hybrid that probably wouldn't really look like Tyrian purple,
as emblem for her life?
Or maybe it's only that this film she needs to see,
over and over

teaches her how to
pour the coffee each day at her job in the diner,
to pour coffee so that it seems
as if myriad petals

of roses are falling into each cup,
offering their fragrance, their female beauty,
their purple lips to caffeine lovers on their way
to some Cairo in the Bronx.