Aglaia, Euphrosyne, Thalia

I find them there, no longer young,
Though neatly dressed and well preserved:
Three sisters in the trinket shop—
Polite and helpful, but reserved.

They guide me through their small boutique
Of jewelry, knickknacks, souvenirs;
Of statuettes and china plates;
Of teacups, lamps, and chandeliers;

Daguerreotypes and candlesticks;
Framed engravings, rosaries;
Liqueur glasses, beaded shawls;
Old postcards from the Tuileries.

I wonder at their careful speech—
The reticence and cryptic air
With which they describe every piece,
As chill as penitential prayer.

I ask to see the cameos
(Mostly profiles carved in shell)
And notice, in the crowded case,
Un délicat, exceptionnel:

Aglaia, Euphrosyne,
Thalia veiled in gauzy stuff,
On tiptoe as they spin like leaves
Swept upwards by a zephyr’s puff.

The Charites or Gratiae—
Three twirling maids whose dance delights.
They follow Aphrodite’s steps
And serve as her attendant sprites.

So says one sister when I ask—
The others smile but seem remote
As if they thought how well the jewel
Would grace some shell-pink female throat

But not their own. No longer theirs
The gifts of agile charm and glow.
Three sisters in a trinket shop
Whose movements are precise and slow

Can only keep youth’s girlish dance
Preserved within a locked display
Where memory might—now and then—
Recall a more ungoverned day.

 

 

Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.


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17 Responses

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      No, but I do tend to spend a lot of time in antique shops, and curio-and-trinket shops.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Joe,

        This poem was exquisite, at least as exquisite as some of the curios described therein, but I also found it very sad. The three sisters were very obviously Old Maids, at least their temporal manifestation. As for the mythical trio, I cannot say. Imagine the heartbreak for the temporal parents whose female progeny had no issue, but became mere curators of artisanal creations wrought by complete strangers. I once lived in a house previously inhabited by two such sisters, but I will spare the details (of which there are many). The way you managed to tangle the mythic with the straight-up-front is a lesson no aspiring poet should ever forget. Many thanks.

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This engaging and admirably crafted poem is beautiful – a real privilege to read and read again.

    Reply
  2. Leo Zoutewelle

    I’m not exactly sure why, but I was deeply caught up in the atmosphere you created in this poem. Goodness! Thank you.
    Leo

    Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Dear Joe —

    Yourlovely and evocative poem convinces me that you have been three steps behind, following me into these places. Even though my house resembles the trinket shop you describe and I know I should become more minimal; — catch up with the times — on occasion I still see something I cannot do without !
    There was a time when I was painting a lot of still lives, and each time I went to the shops I would find three identical objects.
    It got to the point when, having bought the first, I would sigh and say “well, I better go get the other two.”.
    I’ve no idea what this ritual meant, but I knew I had to buy all three.
    This came to an abrupt ending when, invited to a seminar at the home of a old New England dame, I walked in, observed two exquisite satin glass vases, and exclaimed “What beautiful vases! Where’s the third one?! — thus ensuring that I would never be invited again.

    Apparently the number3 had been pursuing me across time, then moved on to you.
    PS – I still have a lot of vases.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Sally —

      Yes, both of us are obsessed with antiques, small artifacts, mementos from the past, and curiosities. Even as a small child I would spend hours gazing at my grandmother’s huge glass curio cabinet, which was packed with so many objects that I would always notice some new thing every time we went to visit her house. I have my own glass cabinet now, and in it are some of the lovely antique pieces that you have kindly sent to me over the years.

      Friends from the UK have told me about “mudlarking,” which is the finding of small antique artifacts in the dark mud of the Thames River at low tide. For weeks I have been glued to the computer screen, utterly fascinated by the cornucopia of delightful small objects (some quite valuable) that can be found along the banks. If I lived in London and had a permit, I’d be at the riverside every morning.

      Reply
      • Sally Cook

        Joe, I still have some of the first objects my father kept in a cupboard. Each had a title; The Jade monkey, The Emerald doublet, the Tobacco Jar. How many times I would reach up into the bottom shelf to examine and caress each object ! And when at my grandmother’s — oh, the joys of sneaking into the dining room to stare at the china dragon, or examine the silver spoons !

        I never forgot these things, and am sure that what I could barely reach in my second year has influenced my conceptions of form and color.
        And now they’ re mine — and yours, of course. How pleased I was to bridge the centuries in my symbolic gift to you of two identical silver spoons, one inscribed with an 1890s date and one from the early 1900s. Those almost forgotten shops are full of wonderful historical objects. May I join you on the banks of the Thames?

  4. James A. Tweedie

    What once was common not too long ago
    Has now gone down the hole of yesterday.
    It think it’s very sad, but true, to say
    The only cameos that children know
    Today, are bit parts on a TV show.

    Lovely poem, descriptive, well-crafted, sentimental, wistful, nostalgic, and tenderhearted. Sweet.

    Reply
  5. David Watt

    What a beautiful poem this is! I am sure we each have our own vivid picture of the three maids, and the richness of their trinket shop. I found the story touching and elegantly detailed.

    Reply
  6. James Sale

    Quite, quite brilliant, and the last stanza particularly, and the word ‘ungoverned’ especially – in a seemingly unexceptional way this builds towards a heart-wrenching climax. Great work.

    Reply
  7. Mark F. Stone

    Professor Salemi, This is a very upscale poem. Two of my favorite lines are: “As chill as penitential prayer” and “Swept upwards by a zephyr’s puff.” And the last six lines of the poem are masterful. Well done! Mark

    Reply

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