Two poems written for Adrienne Rich … and others….
Queen in Exile
b.1437 d. 1492
It does no good to say
“I owned this place!”
“They all fought under my banners!”
I cannot loom armies.
I cannot embroider pots of gold.
I can only exchange the glow of my sons’ birth rite
for old warriors’ dreams of glory
and the gentleness of my fading charms
for their allegiance.
Those who are left
must not see my mended garments,
must bask in the past’s reflected glory.
I smile, wear tattered cloth of gold,
and dispense alms in this strange city.
While my boys polish steel
I seduce secret councils
and court the enemies of my enemy.
I could ride forth into battle,
hair streaming, bare breasted,
screaming “death unto my enemies!”
and be crushed.
Only steel can fight steel.
Only gold can buy gold.
I hide my late nights,
mending, constantly mending,
weaving other people’s greed into dreams,
saving my tears until they are hard as diamonds,
to be ground into poison.
While my boys grow into men,
their followers live on this show.
I will not lose myself in hope.
Jacquetta of Luxembourg (The Countess Rivers)
The first night he will rape you
as casually as he would eat a snack.
If you don’t have your women make him dinner
he will cuff you to the floor,
but only as he would cuff his dog.
No bones broken, just a reminder
that his men camping in the yard outside would not be so gentle.
The old women gently guide you
to sing when he is there, to fill the house with laughter.
There are worse men beyond the horizon.
When he is happy his lieutenants plow the fields;
rebuild tenant houses destroyed in the war.
It seems a small price to dress the older girls as boys
and the younger boys as girls
to protect them.
One dark early morning, a squawling visitor arrives.
His penis is a tiny scimitar to protect you,
a tap root into his father’s heart.
By the time your brothers and their armies
are sighted in the distance
there are four sons fencing with sticks in the yard
and thirty new little boys between your women and his men.
They have returned too soon!
You have been breeding an army while you waited,
the old women crafting poisons in the kitchen.
Watching the sun set slowly against the sky
your husband, your rapist, counts the incoming troops
by the smoke rising from the horse’s hooves
and consults with his men.
You help the women hide the livestock
and choose between battle or supper.
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