POEM: Favorites of the Court by Emma Jenevein

Audio Transcript

The storied walls, tales as gilded as their ornate filigree,

twenty-four karats painted over plaster,

crowd the scene—a claustrophobic luxury.

The cardinal murmurs some platitude in the duque’s ear,

or perhaps a condemnation upon one of the favored elite

peacocking themselves before the duquesa.

Or maybe he is simply noting that that one there,

wearing the dark chaquetilla and hose,

why, he has rather lovely calves indeed.

The vizconde, resplendent in pearly white, heaves a breath

after every attempt to speak.

His stringently bound sash disguises his paunch,

but at the cost of his speech.

A blessing in disguise, I think.

The flamboyant marqués, cap upraised,

has shrewdly surrendered

to the impossibility of such a strategy

and wears a spectacular buttercup girdle

to distract from his girth.

I am hardly the centerpiece of this tableau.

Do you see me there?

The dark-haired woman beneath that gaudy mirror?

No, not that shrinking violet wilted against the mantle,

hands clasped in prayer,

no doubt invoking the protection of St. Agnes

to defend a chastity which is hardly under siege.

Wallflower she may be, but her dear aunt is still the Queen.

I’ve no such claim to sangre azul, nor a notable pedigree;

just a well-dowried marriage to the Conde Anciano

and a talent for genteel riposte.

The marquesa, a fairer beauty there never was,

nor one so empty-headed, leans in

to apprise me of the latest of last week’s scandals.

Yes, the duque is canoodling with his nephew;

in his defense the youth has the proportions of David.

And no, the wayward Infanta is no longer missing.

Her dear papá found her curled at the bottom of a wine barrel

not two hours before the Salacia left port.

In the midst of our tête-à-tête,

the marquesa’s delicate, marble-white brow

obscures half of mine. A notably less beauteous formation,

I must admit. Even the ornery majordomo has been reproduced

in all his florid finery, while I am left to make do

with a three-quarter profile and the merest suggestion

of a coy expression.

As you might guess, dear voyeur, the painter was no friend of mine.

Fickle beasts, artistes.

One askance remark—His doublet was rather off-putting.

Burgundy? In spring?—and you are banished

to the murky background and poor lighting.

Ah, no matter,

I have never coveted immortality.

I’ll leave that fruitless pursuit

to the more illustriously in-bred.