Mary DeCoste

Is That All There Is?

Wineglasses—empty, crusty, blushed with rust,
watch dully as I, empty, acquiesce
to our undressing as we don’t caress,
to unambitious kisses, listless lust.

A careless wrestler crashing to the mat,
you take me in a tumble on the floor—
you satisfy your mandate, nothing more,
as passionate as any bureaucrat.

It’s not like I expected very much from this affair,
our tryst, our little thing.
I really want so little from a fling—
a sexy slumber party, maybe brunch…

I hope that by tomorrow I can laugh at it—
to want so little and not to get the half of it.

Mistaken Identity

“Welcome, Mr., Mrs.! Take your key—
and with our compliments, I’m pleased to say
your room has been upgraded to a suite
for honey-mooners. Please, enjoy your stay!”

In the lobby bar, you take my hand.
We sip and smile and toast our holiday.
And when we reach our room, we find it grand
(and still we jump in bed without delay).

But any bar can serve me a martini.
The lobby store sells robes that bear
the name of the hotel.
There really isn’t any reason, save for one, I want to stay:

For here in this hotel I am your Mrs.,
but after we check out…someone else is.


Mary DeCoste is an associate professor of Italian Studies at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. She has published a book on Boiardo and Ariosto (Hopeless Love, University of Toronto Press, 2009), and articles and book chapters on Dante, Boccaccio, and other topics in Italian studies. Her poems "The Bathroom Door" and "The Stingy Carver" appeared in the Fall 2014 and Summer 2016 issues, respectively, of The Lyric. In 2016, she was a General Contributor in Poetry at The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.


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Mary DeCoste
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The most recent addition to The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline is Aemilia Lanyer by Maryann Corbett.

Eileen Kinch is the recipient of the 2020 Mezzo Cammin Scholarship to the Poetry by the Sea conference.

After my mother died in December, 2014, I and my sister-in-law cleaned out the family home, one day a week for seven months. On the last visit, we found my childhood art. As my folks were packrats, I was not surprised. I didn’t remember that I had made maps from ages 9-11 as subjects for social studies classes, but I recalled loving geography and history. (Coincidentally, for the last 25 years, most of my art has involved cartography.) These map drawings were in organized folders with other assignments inside a rusty filing cabinet lying on its side under the eaves of the dark, unlit attic.

Some months after gathering them up, I gingerly brought them out to study. There was much I recognized about myself: a compulsive attention to detail; fascination with strange, inexplicable images; and experiments with different kinds of representation. Back then, I appropriated meticulously from books, as I still do today from the Internet. This led to a visual dialogue between my childhood and adulthood.

I began to incorporate these schoolroom exercises into paintings. At first, the correspondences were obvious – both the new, painted ground maps and the old, collaged drawings represented New York and New Jersey, for instance. But then, I moved further afield, as my childhood charts covered the globe. I chose antique maps that are geographically incorrect to contemporary eyes for my backgrounds, as I had done on a much smaller scale in a 1998-1999 series of frescoes, Knowledge. Their “wrongness” gave them a childish quality that complemented my elementary school hand.

From our different stages of life, the young girl and the adult woman began to shift back and forth within the pictorial space. I’d also retrieved my childhood doll collection, and some of those toys found their way into the work, parading along shallow stage-like platforms.

I then began to appropriate my other (non-map) childhood drawings, originally book reports or science assignments. Sometimes I arranged them in a row across the top or bottom of the painting, like the predellas in Renaissance art, stories within stories.

I copied tiny animals and sea creatures from my girlhood studies onto the dominant maps; they are visible to the viewer if he/she moves up close. Later, I started to copy entire childhood drawings - which were by then attached to the paintings - directly onto smaller canvases, creating enclosed, subsidiary works excerpted and reinterpreted from the first series. Paint did not capture the nubby, grainy look of the sources, so I bought children’s art supplies – crayons, chalk, cray-pas - and invented for myself a hybrid art-making process.

The worldview of my naïve public school pictures is that of early 1950s America – cowboys at their bonfires in the wide-open west; factories and smokestacks in small town settings; Eskimo girls and Alpine girls and Brazilian girls in their native costumes. The mindset is further away from me today than the places were then. These false scenarios have unraveled for many in my generation, although not everywhere nor for all Americans. And that’s why my conventional grammar school innocence felt weirdly relevant - within our polarized society, where so many people hold onto fantasies about recovering an imaginary past.

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