archduchess-marie-valerie-4

This teenage portrait is my favourite;

favoured child, last child, Die Einzige …

Three siblings denied maternal ministrations,

then a decade on, the music of your name –

Marie Valerie Mathilde Amalie –

conceived after coronation, the first royal

born in Hungary in over a century.

News of your arrival filling the streets

like homecoming, awakening in your mother

a fierce and unexpected doting.

 

I have poured over other images:

you with dolls in meticulous dress,

with royal cats and dogs,

seated formally at a tiny table,

silver cutlery poised just so, a prescient

almost-frown on your infant face

and much later dwarfed by your own brood,

ten children and the infidel husband.

 

Why is this the image I return to ?

Perhaps it is the slightly crooked fringe

I like to imagine as homespun,

the closed book in your lap, fingers resting

lightly on some other to-be-continued life,

the lines of a poem vying for space

in your head as you balance the great weight

of multiple crowns and ordinary womanhood.

 

I think it must be the smallness of your smile

that wins me over, vaguely guarded

as if holding promises only to self and God:

that you would marry for love but prize

common sense over vanity, exercise

your mind before your body, paint

the flowers and defend the poor, that faith

would complete you and on your deathbed

make clear to those who knew you

that in the end only unexpected recovery

could let you down.

 

 

 

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