Sheila Nickerson and the Speaking Curtains of “Kodiak Widow”

I found an old Pushcart Prize anthology, number 1o, from 1986.  In it is the amazing short story, “Quantum Jumps,” which Tim O’Brien excerpted from his less-than-successful novel, The Nuclear Age.  Also in it is a poem, “Kodiak Widow,” by Sheila Nickerson.  I didn’t remember the poem, but I do now.  See what you think:

Kodiak Widow

The curtains speak to me.
Even the spoons
slipping in and out of my mouth
don’t know as much—
the man who seeded me,
the sons who swam away
like fingerlings.
The curtains tell me how it was—
how I unfurled like sails before wind,
how I shook with light,
danced with storm.
Now when gales blow
south from the Barren Islands,
the curtains sing to me—
sometimes a lullaby in Russian,
sometimes a song
that only I can understand.
I need no instrument, no telephone.
The curtains hold the news,
the gossip of flying geese and tears.

I found myself staring at the curtains, too, watching them flutter like an empty sleeve, and realizing, as I read along, that it wasn’t really the curtains that held the story–rather, it was the narrator who was caught in a thoughtful stare, the kind that happens when your mind is racing so hard that you are no longer present.  The curtains, then, become a kind of screen onto which you project your inner world.  In this case, the narrator, the Kodiak widow, envisions her whole life unfolding: from “the man who seeded me” to “the sons who swam away/like fingerlings.”

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