la belle dame with a bell, still sans merci - Sophie Lai

I was told at a young age
That silver doesn’t tarnish. Not if you don’t let it.
If you scrub, scour, polish. But no, not you.
Them. Don’t look, I was told. Turn your head
And wave your hand. The silver will gleam, or they will bleed.
I was told at a young age
To appreciate what has been bestowed upon me. I have been blessed
With great fortune. Thank maman and papa for my schooling in Charleston—
I now know how to ask for a cup of tea in six languages. I cultivate my beauty
With poultices from England, arranged in cut-crystal jars on the Chippendale.
I was asked about the shadows in the house. How I managed them.
What shadows? I answered.
I know the details of every ornament in the house, but I never truly noticed the shadows.
The ones who serve you. I know the term,
But it’s repulsive, as horrid as the brands on their palms—
I look at mine. Cotton-soft and paler than meringue.
Don’t think I don’t see my shadows. I do
And yet it doesn’t matter, because I choose what I recognize.
I see them, dusting maman’s pianoforte and
Ironing papa’s shirts. Be careful, they’re from London.
I see them in the fields, the sun
Casting its flames, their sweat dripping like the fountains in Rome.
I see them. I don’t recognize them.
I was told at a young age
To read my Godey’s and the Bible. On Sundays I repented—
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. What did I do?
Nothing. I just wanted to say something. Because sometimes I think I’m blind,
Blind to the world, though my silks are from China and my satins from France.
And blind to God, because truly I am made to worship idols
Of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood. Without the gilt I am nothing.
I was told to do so at a young age. Perhaps I have sinned, because
I am not pious. I am built on ugliness.
I see their starved lips in the gloam, with horrid warning gaped wide.
So said Keats and so said I.
But I also see the fields bloated with the crop, their antlike bodies
Harvesting the fecund earth. And I am their queen.
He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed
with the sword.
But it’s alright for now. I can close my eyes.
I was told at a young age
That if something can’t be seen
It doesn’t exist.

Written from “belle”