What She Saw

by Len Krisak (October 2012)

—after Ben Jonson’s EPIGRAMMES, LXII:
“To Fine Lady Would-Bee”

Ben Jonson saw the son of his right hand

Cut off, his daughter Mary under earth

At scarce six months, a kind of afterbirth.

No wonder, then, that like a burning brand,

      He wrote this searing epigram.

Branded himself, he marked her soul for life

Who’d regularly irrigate her womb.

“Of the not borne, yet buried, here’s the tombe,”

His pen indited. Lady Would-Bee, wife,

      Would never let a baby be,

But left alone herself, let out at court

That she was barren (who would never bear).

Ben Jonson knew her drugs’ apothicaire,

And that her belly meant a “losse of sport.”

      It meant a loss of more than that.

Remember how blasé the father was

(“A boy or girl?”)? He asked you if you cared.

My darling, were you scarred or only scared?

It’s more than scarring, what the doctor does.

      It’s wiping slates; it’s scraping clean.

And could you say then that it left you free

Of more than cells? Imprisoned by your sex,

You thought to make love’s consequence an ex,

And then you thought to make an ex of me,

      Whose one wish was the one of you.

How did you ever come (as in the end

You did) to wish you had not let them do it?

How is it that you came so hard to rue it,

Claiming that it would never be again’d,     

      And yet you had not one regret

Expelling me? I never heard your voice       

Again. No doubt you chose some other he

To share with you this newfound clarity,                             

When I became the least important choice,

      Who was your one true D&C.

Len Krisak has published in The London Magazine, The Oxonian Review, PN Review, Standpoint, Agni, The Antioch Review, The Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, The Dark Horse, Agenda, The Hopkins Review, Commonweal, Literary Imagination, The Oxford Book of Poems on Classical Mythology, and others. His latest book is Virgil’s Eclogues, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010


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