That servant with the big heart but so clumsy—
Remember her?—how objects used to fly
Out of her hands, seized by a sudden whimsy?
And often it would end in a good cry,
Things shattering around her, glass and cup,
Dust where she dusted, spots where she wiped up …

She meant no real harm, only … only
I used to picture her in that cramped room
(The size of a coffin), sinking down in gloom
To wail into her pillow, terribly lonely,
And needing us (we thought) to give some meaning
To her poor life beyond the daily cleaning.

Well, she has gone without us; she has gone
To cross the rivers of the underworld alone.

October’s here. It whistles through the orchard.
The leaves blush and are humble at our feet.
So much like Bertha—whom we teased and tortured
As children all those years.
And what if we should meet
Some evening in the shadows of the hall
To find her shrinking back into the wall
Just as she used to, so that we might pass,
Only this time she vanishes like smoke?
And what if we should dream the sound of glass
Breaking, but find no sign of it when we awoke?

* * *

Three weeks have passed. We should at least have brought
Some flowers for the grave, but no one thought.
Too late, in any case, for she must be
Too wan and hollow-eyed by now to see,
Nor would there be a friend left to replace
The worn-out flowers in their little vase.

Donald Justice

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 Number 4, on page 34
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