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Parlors

Summer 2017 - Vol. 59, No. 3

 

This poem appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.


< OFr. parlur < parler, to talk

   in memory of Ethel Walker Kerne (1911–2005)

 

They were a private home’s most public place
Where cakes and tea would greet each settled guest
From china plates and cups, the family’s best,
Slowly served with ceremonious grace.

The sofa and the chairs were made of oak
Well stained and polished, seats all woven fine
With threads pulled tight in welcoming design
Whose ripe pineapples silently bespoke

Warm conversations we still almost hear
About church, work, school, country, weather, kin
Come from a common tongue whose sounds would spin
Words brightening in the heightened atmosphere.

Improper posture, manners, tone that reign
Uncensored in a world with little taste
Where crude behavior matches vulgar waste
Were banished from the parlor’s trim domain.

But now that room within whose blended space
The private life and public deftly met
Is rarely used, its eminence beset
By change old courtesies would not embrace.

And so instead of teas in formal dress
Where manners measured ethics and our speech
Was civil and precise to please and teach
And we were bound by what we would express

We live in rooms where one can live apart
Surfing the web, pressing remote controls
Which fix us as we search for all our souls
Once found in parlor-talk: the human heart.

 

David Middleton is the author of The Fiddler of Driskill Hills and The Burning Fields, and the former poetry editor of Modern Age.