Apart from my sisters, estranged
from my mother, I am a woman alone
in a house of men
call themselves princes, alone
with me usually, under cover of dark. I am the one allowed in
to the royal chambers, whose small foot conveniently
fills the slipper of glass. The woman writer, the lady
umpire, the madam chairman, anyone’s wife.
I know what I know.
And I once was glad
of the chance to use it, even alone
in a strange castle doing overtime on my own, cracking
the royal code. The princes spoke
in their father’s language, were eager to praise me
my nimble tongue. I am a woman in a state of siege, alone
as one piece of laundry, strung on a windy clothesline a
mile long. A woman co-opted by promises: the lure
of a job, the ruse of a choice, a woman forced
to bear witness, falsely
against my own kind, as each
other sister was judge inadequate, bitchy, incompetent,
jealous, too thin, too fat. I know what I know.
What sweet bread I make
for myself in this prosperous house
is dirty, what good soup I boil turns
in my mouth to mud. Give
me my ashes. A cold stove, a cinder-block pillow, wet
canvas shoes in my sisters’, my sisters’ hut. Or I swear
I’ll die young
like those favored before me, hand-picked each one
For her joyful heart.