The Crazy Ladies of Then

by Linda Lerner  

Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (first wife of T.S. Eliot)
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (wife of F Scott Fitzgerald)

I could have been one of those crazy ladies
like Vivienne or Zelda confined to wife
an institution for life, if born in another time

my words discovered in a husband’s books
as Zelda did: “Mr. Fitzgerald,” she wrote,
“seems to believe plagiarism begins at home”

my life imprinted on someone else’s
like a nameless woman’s image* on
old coins my father collected
a man whose European mindset
didn’t include a wife working

spoke of an arranged marriage,
my mother’s, she wouldn’t allow it”
called me Sarah Bernhardt

like an actress Eliot said of Vivienne
drawn to her vivaciousness, original mind
kept pushing him to work on The Wasteland*
a wasteland he’d abandon her in,
using what once attracted him as proof
of her instability

takes me back to my Kerouac wannabe lover
our life together in the conditional tense
and how I too, I too

* all references and quotes are from Wikipedia

The nameless woman referred to in the 3rd stanza is known as winged Liberty, seen on a 1920’s dime, whom the designer believed may have been Elsie Stevens, wife of Wallace Stevens.