For Sonya

We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old.
-Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya

Stoic girl, with an inclined head, rough hand
cradling a fountain pen, you told us
that you’d face the mottled ledger,
manage the estate throughout the years to come.
You’d renounce rest and pleasure, work until midnight,
lamplight swimming in your harrowed eyes,
then you’d dream of debts collecting on your shoulders,
choking the lace of that outmoded nightgown.

And later, once you know the aches that burrow in,
the cold fog pressing up from every side,
you’ll think perhaps you should have sojourned
for some time in Paris to drink cold glittering champagne,
or kissed the doctor when you had the chance,
drunk on his ether and birch branch musk,
or stolen a glowing skull-torch from a witch’s hut
and carried it through the untamed wood.

We make minute tears along the edges
of our programs and clap at the appointed times.
After the final act when the set has darkened
and the pistols hibernate in bureau drawers,
and the others one by one have murmured
their parting words and left the stage, you’ll remain there
in a room with your possessions: an uncle, a nanny,
a book of accounts, a chain of days ahead.

And later we’ll go back to the world to wait
at traffic lights, to check our mail on mobile screens,
to squint at the low sun above the tree line
and watch the dust fall on the stacks of years.
And with us, steadfast girl, we’ll take
the imprint of the fresnel glow that fell
upon your lips, weighed down at the corners
with monologue and sorrow—then dimmed.