The Queen in Red
A year is not enough time
to see my face instead of hers
when he closes his eyes.
Her girl reminds him.
But I took my vows to him, I cannot go back.
She is mine now, in status if not fact.
Revenant. Dead queen’s daughter.
I would have named her differently,
Cynthia, Bianca, Alba,
but it was not my choice.
Mirror image in the flesh,
her mother’s echo, to remind
him that she gave him a child
and died to do it, to remind
him that I am his second choice, to remind
him of how fine she was.
The dead are always so.
I cannot compare.
I think sometimes he pretends she is her,
their two faces confused,
the girl’s scent her mother’s, the rustle
of her clothes a herald
that she is alive still and waiting—
and I am made of nothing, lost
She reminds him that he can engender,
that my empty belly is my fault alone.
The glass does not lie. I am still a fair woman.
I will wear my hair loose
as she does, as I did when I was a girl.
I will fold my bodice so, to show my breasts,
I will perfume my lips and tongue with sweet fruit,
lady apples to please him,
but it will not matter;
I am not her.
She reminds him
that she filled her mother once.
She is old enough to marry off
but he keeps her near.
I will name my daughter Alba, if she is born.
A year is not enough of mourning,
not for a man’s desires.
Still I stay bare as a stick; he remembers
what it is to get a child on a wife, remembers
what it is to make her bloom.
I have felt it stir and bleed away,
twice now. Barren as old dirt.
Nothing will grow in me, nothing
I will carry one if not the other.
It is her he wants,
whose mirrored image he still can see.
I hate her, poor orphan. She gnaws my soul.
One would think she would smell my poison
on my skin like rank sweat,
weeping from my eyes. Bitter
Better hate the man that made her, but too much depends.
I took my vows to him.
I cannot go back.
She is obedient, if nothing else,
and coddled enough not to question.
Even me. Even now.
Come to me here, now, my poppet, my pet—
Her name is awkward on my tongue,
I want to say Alba, my Alba—
yet she comes.
Come sit with me and let me comb your hair
Come sit with me and let me lace your dress
Come sit with me and let me feed you from my own mouth
as if you were mine.
I have paid dear
to host this banquet.
She will eat well
of the only fruit my womb has borne.
It is not sweet.
It will be me he sees then.
Erica Ruppert lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and an assortment of over-indulged cats and guinea pigs. She teaches at a small liberal arts college; when she is not teaching or writing, she is running.