My Last Husband

More poems now that I have time. This poem, or dramatic monologue, was written for Harriet Whitbread, who performed my poem, Erlkönigin. I wrote it over the week-end, with Bicycles finally done, and wanted to write her something she could really have fun with—my way of thanking her. If you’ve never read Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess, then you should read that first or you’ll be apt to miss the humor and inside jokes. As usual, I enjoy writing pastiches like these that turn the originals a little upside down and a little inside out. As I see it, why let the men have all the fun? Enjoy.

 
 My Last Husband
  
 L.A.
  
 [Enter Madame de B. wearing a caftan and sipping a whisky sour.]
  
 That’s my last husband pictured on the wall
 Looking as if he were alive. The great
 Photographer Pierre Blanchet insisted—
 And spent the week-end taking photographs.
 No doubt he would have stayed a few weeks longer. 
 I’ve since been told Pierre had fallen madly
 In love with him.  
             It mattered neither men
 Nor women, everyone who met him loved him.
 Yet after all these years I’m not surprised
 You didn’t recognize him—being younger.
 Fame, as they say, is fleeting. Even so
 And only having seen his photograph,
 You’re not the first to ask me who he was—
 What with that jaw, that brow, that piercing gaze.
 And not for me. Oh no. No. All of that
 Was for Pierre or rather I should say
 His camera.
                  Was I there? Oh yes, although
 You’d never guess. Before he was discovered
 He tended bars. He made me whiskey sours.
 That’s how he was. So thoughtful. Whisky sours
 For me and for Pierre a Cosmopolitan,
 A Mai Tai for the bellboy, Juleps for
 The scullery maid. They loved him. Everyone
 Adored him. Oh but they adored him. Why
 Any trifle batting eyes at him
 He’d treat as if he’d known them all their lives.
 A movie star! Imagine that! You’d think
 There was no point in living where we lived:
 This villa, planned by Lars van Alderhof;
 Its stunning view of the Pacific ocean;
 An architectural beacon!
                                         But I digress.
 As I was saying: Everyone who met him—
 Well, I was always being told how lucky
 I was. How fortunate. I was the envy
 Of womankind! Imagine being married,
 They’d say, to Jason of the Argonauts,
 To Robinhood, to Tamburlaine and Harry
 The goddamn Fifth! 
                       The day the photograph
 Was taken, on that very day, my agent
 Called to tell me I’d been chosen. Me!
 The starring role in La Belle Dame. I’m sure,
 Of course, you’ve heard of it. I won an Oscar.
 Alas but that my husband never knew.
 He knew that I would star. Was any man
 Supportive as he was? Was any wife
 So lucky? He at once made known to all
 That I, his unexampled wife, would star
 In La Belle Dame; then added sans merci.
 Indeed. The laughter was uproarious. Oh how
 They loved him. Sans merci. Indeed.
                                           I’m sure
 You know the story. Last that he was seen
 He’d driven off in his belovèd Aston Martin.
 Gone, but for this: his photograph; still smiling
 As if alive.
                     Shall we repair to the salon?
 My agent will of course review the contract—
 I’m sure a mere formality considering
 Your studio’s well-known—munificence.
 Just follow me.
                     And those? The magazines?
 I had the covers framed. Quite lovely. Taken
 Shortly after I had won the Oscar
 For La Belle Dame—and while touring Italy.
 The statue in the background overlooked
 A gorgeous cove and was quite famous. Sculpted
 By Hans of Strasbourg and entitled: Neptune
 Taming a seahorse. Tragically, there was
 An accident. 
            The workmen who’d been hired
 To clean and renovate the statue must
 Have loosened here and there a bolt, forgetting
 To tighten them—a cable snipped?—who knows.
 (Whatever does a woman know about
 Such things.) But down went Neptune, down
 Into the waves with nothing whatsoever
 To brake his fall. The chariot was found
 But never Neptune—no doubt swept out
 To sea. As luck would have it though, just Neptune
 And nothing else. 
                    The seahorse, so it’s claimed,
 Still stands just as it was—and still untamed.
  
 [Exeunt Madame de B.] 

Dedicated Harriet Whitbread

Needless to say, and just like Browning’s poem, mine is based on true events.