April 16: James Merrill's "The Candid Decorator"

Today’s James Merrill poem is from The Yellow Pages, a lesser known volume from 1974, published by the Temple Bar Bookshop rather than his regular publisher. This small grouping brought together, as he explained, “verses that gave blood to others and were thrust aside for their pains; others no less that went a flighty route their maker chose not to call his own; neither kind was apt to ‘go’ in the collection then being put together. Where did they go? Yellowed, brittle with reproach, these of mine are felt, this rainy weekend, to have deserved more than the pauper’s ditch of a bottom drawer or dispersal in the pages of twenty magazines.” Thus he offered this interim gathering to friends and fans. (The poems can now be found in Collected Poems, along with many other pieces not available in Merrill’s individual collections or in the more recent and judicious Selected Poems.)

The Candid Decorator

I thought I would do over
All of it. I was tired
Of scars and stains, of bleared
Panes, tinge of the liver.
The fuchsia in the center
Looked positively weird
I felt it—dry as paper.
I called a decorator.
In next to no time such
A nice young man appeared.
What had I in mind?
Oh, lots and lots of things—
Fresh colors, pinks and whites
That one would want to touch;
The windows redesigned;
The plant thrown out in favor,
Say, of a small tree,
An orange or a pear . . .
He listened dreamily.
Combing his golden hair
He measured with one glance
The distance I had come
To reach this point. And then
He put away his comb
He said: “Extravagance!
Suppose it could be done.
You’d have to give me carte
Blanche and an untold sum.
But to be frank, my dear,
Living here quite alone
(Oh I have seen it, true,
But me you needn’t fear)
You’ve one thing to the good:
While not exactly smart,
Your wee place, on the whole
It couldn’t be more ‘you.’
Still, if you like—” I could
Not speak. He had seen my soul,
Had said what I dreaded to hear.
Ending the interview
I rose, blindly. I swept
To show him to the door,
And knelt, when he had left,
By my Grand Rapids chair,
And wept until I laughed
And laughed until I wept.

Learn more about Collected Poems by James Merrill

Learn more about Selected Poems by James Merrill

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