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An Explanation of Doily

To Adam Z

You asked me last summer: "What is a doily?"
Sometimes, at lunch, I walk on the beach.
Today I was coatless. A storm cloud threatened,
Dark as a spaceship. Should it pour,
A sister ship down in the water
Would throw up grappling nets to the surface,
Rain rise to soak me. Behind a sandbank,
Waves touched the shore, no more than a shimmer.

Less rare than its cousin, the antimacassar,
A doily's placed between sweet thing and china.
Both survive where vicars arrive
For tea, are given thin cup and saucer
Instead of a mug. If your cake's so rich
That it's leaking syrup, you'll need a doily.
Held up, its paper's the filigree
Of snowflake, or fingers looked through in fear.

The shower holds off. My shoe's a doily.
Without it, where would I be on these shells
That crunch underfoot, like contact lenses,
As I gingerly walk, on my mermaid way
Back to my husband in his human dwelling?

Someone is pulling a blue toy trawler
Along the horizon to port, so smoothly
It looks realistic. Sea's partly doily.
Surfers ride its lace to their downfall,
After all, we're nothing but froth.
Like a carpet salesman, the indolent tide
Flops a wave over, showing samples: "Madam,
This one is durable, has a fringe." Under
Its breath the sea sighs, "Has it come
To this? Must everything always end in ... doily?"

It must. Broad afternoon. The rain-cloud barges
Have passed and here's a cumulonimbus parade
Of imperial busts, the Roman rulers
In historical order which, I think, would please you.
Their vapor curls and noble foreheads
Are lit up in lilac because they're invading
The west. Next come the philosophers and, last of all,
The poets. Pulleys draw them delicately on.
Here comes Lucretius, then Ovid, then Horace
In lines, saying relentlessly, "Doily," "Doily,"
Till stars take over and do the same.

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