Betsy Patterson Bonaparte to Her Brother-in-Law, Upon
Landing at Dover Alone and Nine Months Pregnant, 1805
by Shelley Puhak
As to your love affair with your little girl, I pay no regard to it.
—Napolean Bonaparte to his brother Jerome
See, waiting for me to bear
or to burst, how they crowd—?
My escorts must beat them back.
I can beat back what you fear
most—that all fires smolder out,
even the jaw so set will slack.
First moored in Amsterdam,
now stranded in England—
all your ports deny me entry.
Not as weathered, his hands,
as yours, I've heard. Let me land.
We'll talk. You'll bend. See
how I've bent what was brittle?
what I've softened and eased
round? Honed with my tongue?
What I know of you, what little,
you are too easily pleased
with gossamer, too easily stung.
Know it is not heat, but chill,
that governs my upswell
and that something climbs
into me at night too. Still,
I sweep a curtsy as well
as any courtier, easily find
my place. A merchant's
daughter, I know something
of exchange: I spend
only what I earn. Plant
to reap. Stitch and sing,
keep my ledger for one end.
Shelley Puhak is the author of Stalin in Aruba (Black Lawrence Press), winner of the 2010 Towson Prize for Literature, and the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, winner of the 2011 Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry. Individual poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Southeast Review, and many other journals. She currently serves as Writer-in-Residence for Notre Dame of Maryland University.