I Marie Antoinette, imprisoned in Paris in 1791,
to Marie Louise (Louis) Girardin,
departing from Brest on d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition
Your breasts, small as flowers, lie flat,
unlike the ocean’s endless swells.
Tell me of the constant rising, the blue days
that stretch to months. Minutes spool
to hours here, and I’m a fool,
my mind unruly as a child’s.
Your breasts oppressed with weight
of jacket, shirt, wool and linen,
lie hidden from the prying eyes of men.
I imagine you, collar tight, buttoned in bone,
your shirt white as skin. At night, alone,
do you bare your chest to the cool air?
My breasts, pale and shrunken,
are hampered too. I wrap them
in a winding sheet, build
a man’s facade to face the fray.
Abundant, blossoming, once they
inspired vessels in which milk nestled:
my breasts, moulded in pale porcelain,
the cup an aching memory.
Wanton moths bang their bodies
on glass panes. I loved those cups,
fragile as moonlight,
the stain the milk left, like a ruff of silk.
Your breasts, your woman’s body
tied and taped into trousers and shirt.
Your hurt etched in your face.
The ocean reaching its blue arms,
wrapping them around you,
holding tight, through the long, long nights.
My breasts, my woman’s body,
tired and trapped in a world gone wild.
Are you beguiled, like me, by moths, their wings
a prayer to lift you, their bodies burning with light?
I watch them and remember summer nights when I
spilled from dresses, creamy and abundant as milk.
II Marie Louise (Louis) Girardin to Marie Antoinette
the sea a blue furling tightly bound the sheets the cords strapped and straining the ache the creak the holdfast as we left the shore behind chaos and an infinite sky the wind a benefactor its breath our battlefield the spilling of fear we were awash with rain and sea it drummed on our skin setting it alight with liquid the sky streaming screaming haunted by bird call by the wind lifting its throat widening its jaws its shifting embrace a body blow that blasted the world asunder the past a mockery a flawed thing with burnt claws the present an unknown our performers’ wigs askew voices deep as earth’s bowels the rain a cloak a hiding place his tears my tears washing changing charging all air alive and skin streaming the ship a chess piece moving step by step towards release unease lifting the world firmer despite its watery foundations my shirt sleeves soft against this toughening skin this body a chrysalis from which I inch slow sure steady the astonishing blue a gleam in an eye the sea aglow the sea a blue unfurling