Three Ladies

December 9, 2010 § 1 Comment


Leopardskin Jasper and Brilliant Glass Necklace

I used to make fruitcakes for Christmas gifts. Scoff if you like, but they were delicious. I miss having the space to do that, to allow six or eight cakes to bathe in generous spirits for a month, while the ground turned purple and dimmer and crackly and Charles walked around wearing a blanket to conserve heat. Now, I make jewelry, and oddly enough it takes up even more room (though it doesn’t tempt me to add rum to my tea in mid-afternoon). Of course, I make jewelry to sell, which is why it takes up so much room.

I mostly sell over the Internet. I prefer selling in person, because the quality of the work is much more evident, and I can talk to the customer. But on the other hand, I like surprising people (I get effusive emails). I’m shipping overseas today, which means standing in line at the post office, because no matter how often I do it, I can’t ever get the customs forms right.

The post office ladies are very kind. They’re swift too, though there aren’t enough of them, which is why the powers that be removed the clock from the post office wall. Every time I go, I learn from their firm, efficient friendliness. One has an unfailing cheerfulness, brisk hands and a depth of calm like an African lake (she’s Korean), and I envy her family, though it may be that she’s so calm because she has no family; one has a sardonic eye and a crackle of irritation that make me cringe when I’ve been especially stupid, and feel an equivalent relief a moment later, when her crooked smile forgives me; and the quiet one lets her boredom show in such a way that her off-duty pleasures become almost visible, reminding me of my off-duty pleasures.

I like all three ladies, and after so many years, think of the three as if they were aspects of one. When occasionally there’s a man working, and he’s never as fast and rarely as friendly, I feel impelled to protest (of course I say nothing). This is a woman’s job, to stand and receive all those confused about customs, about whether to spend $20 overnight postage to get grandmother’s card to London by her birthday (I say nothing about that either), whether insurance is worth it and which stamps are prettier. Not that I’d mind if men could do the job. But they can’t. They haven’t yet. Not as well. Not in 20 years.

The Three Ladies

I dreamt. I saw three ladies in a tree,
and the one that I saw most clearly
showed her favors unto me,
and I saw her leg above the knee!

But when the time for love was come,
and of readiness I had made myself,
upon my head and shoulders
dropped the other two like an unquiet dew.

What were these two but the one?
I saw in their faces, I heard in their words,
wonder of wonders! it was the undoing of me
they came down to see!

Sister, they said to her who upon my lap
sat complacent, expectant:
he is dead in his head, and we
have errands, have errands…

Oh song of wistful night! Light shows
where it stops nobody knows, and two
are one, and three, to me, and to look
is not to read the book.

Robert Creeley

The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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