Ferdinand was systematic when
he drove his daughter mad.
With a Casanova’s careful art,
he moved slowly,
stole only one child at a time
through tunnels specially dug
behind the walls of her royal
chamber, then paid the Duenna
well to remember nothing
but his appreciation.
Imagine how quietly
the servants must have worked,
loosening the dirt, the muffled
ring of pick-ends against
the castle stone. The Duenna,
one eye gauging the drugged girl’s
sleep, each night handing over
another light parcel, another
small body vanished
through the mouth of a hole.
Once you were a daughter, too,
then a wife, and now the mother
of a baby with a Spanish name.
Paloma, you call her, little dove;
she sleeps in a room beyond you.
Your husband, too, works late,
drinks too much at night, comes
home lit, wanting sex and dinner.
You feign sleep, shrunk
in the corner of the queen-sized bed.
You’ve confessed, you can’t feel things
when they touch you;
take Prozac for depression, Ativan
for the buzz. Drunk, you call your father
who doesn’t want to claim
a half sand-nigger grandkid.
He says he never loved your mother.
No one remembers Juana; almost
everything’s forgotten in time,
and if I tell her story,
it’s only when guessing
what she loved, what she dreamed
about, the lost details of a life
that barely survives history.
God and Latin, I suppose, what she loved.
And dreams of mice pouring out
from a hole. The Duenna, in spite
of her black, widow’s veil, leaning
to kiss her, saying Juana, don’t listen . . .
Poems by Erin Belieu have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Slate, The Yale Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, AGNI, The New York Times, and others. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Black Box (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), One Above & One Below (Copper Canyon, 2000), and Infanta (Copper Canyon, 1995), which was selected for the National Poetry Series. (updated 7/2010)