Anne Boleyn’s Dressmaker
A dressmaker sees things differently.
Most people remember my lady as wife of a king or mother of a queen,
but I remember that naughty little negligee she wore to Henry’s bed —
black satin drapery I trimmed in orange silk,
ebony folds flame-frosted, scented with cinnamon and cloves,
just right for my sophisticated lady,
who was as feisty and fast-living as the falcon on her crest —
the kind of woman other women rarely like.
“Raven-haired witch” gossips called her,
citing a blemished fingertip, an extra nail, as proof of Satan’s curse.
So I designed a robe with ample sleeves to hide that imperfection —
these jewel-embellished, fox-lined folds are a secret-smothering sheath.
Still, things fall apart, unravel at the end.
Henry enjoyed a romantic chase, but rarely cared for what he caught.
And my lady knew her worth, wouldn’t favor, flatter or fawn upon a man —
the kind of woman some women really like.
I took care she met death as befits a queen, regally arrayed,
gowned in rose satin, offset by gray brocade,
her feet encased in silver slippers, the cutting edge of fashion,
filigreed and fragile, never meant for walking.
Confessions of an English Painter, 1542
I meant to paint a masterpiece.
Mine a King’ commission, I was perfection-seeking, hard-to-please.
By hand I ground pigment into powder, cinnabar into crimson,
lapis lazuli into ultramarine, washing the canvas
with a rainbow of reds, ruby red, wine red, orange red,
against a background of cerulean blue.
Such a swirl of shades, I thought, would embody royalty,
reflect the beguiling beauty of Kathryn Howard, Henry’s beloved queen.
I forgot those shadows that seep to the surface,
bleeding through brushwork, destroying design. Wed to an ailing, aging king,
my lady chose a paramour, risking her crown for a courtier’s kiss.
Hers an affair etched in acid, a collage of corroded color
blistered by the red of adultery, that dark and dangerous dye.
For both lady and lover were caught, of course;
then condemned to death, Henry’ revenge on his adolescent bride.
I left her portrait unsealed and unprotected, despite damp and icy drafts,
watching reds, roughly handled, reduced to russet, purples bruised to plum.
So much beauty wasted.
An old man now, I remember my lady as just sixteen,
her hair a crown uncontained, brushed to a fiery sheen.
Since retiring from teaching high school English, Carol Milkuhn has devoted much of her time to creative writing, focusing on the importance of women in history and literature. Her poems have appeared in several magazines and chapbooks, including Literal Latte, Lyric Magazine, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Time of Singing, and Vermont Literary Review.
Several poems have won contests, including Literal Latte’s 2011 Food Verse Contest, the Eighth Annual Art of Music Contest, and annual contests sponsored by Bloodroot Literary Magazine and Time of Singing. Also, her long, narrative poem “The Rough Wooing,” won a Most Highly Commended award in the 2013 Margaret Reid Contest; published online at the Winning Writers website, this poem is about sixteenth century Scotland, focusing on Marie de Guise’s struggle with the ambitious Henry VIII.
Her first novel, A Tapestry of Queens, has just been accepted for publication by Bagwyn Books, a press dedicated to publishing well-researched historical fiction. Carol lives and writes in Vermont.