The maiden lingers

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The maiden lingers at the boundary stone,
glancing wistfully behind her
at the home she is leaving.
Her hair is artfully arranged,
her pale cheeks reddened like the summer roses,
and a dress fit for a bride clings to her supple curves,
with nothing on beneath.
A ball of golden string rests at her bare feet;
her smile is joyful, expectant,
but her eyes betray more complex emotions inside her.
Sadness, and perhaps a touch of fear.
Where she goes, none may return.
The silent guide waits for her, hand outstretched
and face concealed by the shadow of his broad-brimmed hat.
The snakes twined around his staff hiss and sway
to the clamor of drums played by Satyrs in the distance.
Their music has cast a spell on her,
drawn her out of her father’s doors
with light, dancing steps to revel in the forested Italian hills
where the women of her village go to hang
ribbons and masks on the night of the spider,
where she can finally be free.
She knows that he waits for her,
the handsome youth with the kantharos and a crown of violets and ivy-leaves.
He’s the one who tossed the golden ball at her feet;
all she has to do is reach down, pick it up, and follow the thread back to him
and they will feast together in love’s banquet.
But she hesitates.
Only for a moment, but she hesitates.
She hungers for him with all her soul,
wants to lose herself in his kisses,
feel her flesh come alive for the first time
as he caresses her and claims her as his own,
aches to be filled with the frenzy of him,
that strange and beautiful youth
who she senses is so much more than he seems
– but she fears. Fears the finality of that first step,
fears that her family will forget her when she does not return,
fears that she is not worthy of his love.
But what choice does she have?
She has already closed her eyes,
let her hand fall to her side,
felt the last breath escape her lips.
All that remains is the journey into eternity
and the cup of her beloved, full of his wine.