Melissa Carl

Vienna, 1888-89


The year of suicides and the rotten boredom

of the bourgeoisie, the price of sugar rising

as lime trees thicken on the Ringstrasse.

Egret feathers in women’s hats, papers of hysteria.

Everything is drama and everything is wrong.

Garden peacocks huddle under dripping bushes

at the villa of Johann Strauss. Palatial rain falls

on the Renaissance colonnades. A personal advertisement

in the press—To my most beloved love: have you forgotten 

me entirely? Absinthe and anti-Semitism, cravats

and loden coats. The brushes of Gustav Klimt smolder

on The Chariot of Thespis. Erotica and elongations,

women who want to kiss.  At Wahring

the scientists exhume Beethoven’s bones.  

Why hast thou lived? Why hast thou suffered? Mahler writes,

the price of sugar rising, and the capes of women

gleaming with sable instead of fox.

Gold braid, sideburns, Steeplechase and tea.

Everything is imperial, and everything is flawed.

In his cold apartment Freud broods about the oddities of sex

and the outrageous price of his cigars.

Snuff-stained ink blotters and Hugo Wolf, The Third Sonata

for Violin.  A diamond chip of Venus impales the twilight

as the Crown Prince Rudolph and his teenage mistress flee

to the royal lodge to kill themselves.  Then the morning after—

dogs barking across the grounds, ravens like pieces of storm

in the firs, the barons finally axing the bedroom door.

Coptic priests and black-clad Hasidim, Muslims in crimson fez.

The Papal Nuncio asks, in halting Latin, how many bullets?

so that he might pray over every place they left the flesh.

And the girl? She believed that she would live forever

in romantic legend. How quickly they erase her,

burying the scandal in the Cemetery of the Nameless. 

Rudolph found at Mayerling alone

a hundred headlines say. Everything was hoped for,

and everything is gone. Gardenia and deception,

orchestrated grief. Black-sashed sentinels draw military swords.

Why hast thou lived? Why hast thou suffered?

Have you forgotten me entirely?

Telegrams and coachmen, carriages and flags.

The squadron of Hussars follow the Hungarian

National Guard.  The air is an iron monsoon of bells.

And then, the break of protocol—have you forgotten?

a whispered Pater Noster

before the old man kisses the wooden coffin,

the Emperor father on his knees.



History, that stern mother

shakes her head at me,

sets down the broom

and leaves her debris to scold me.


No, not that one.

She leans across the kitchen table

to flip the pages of my book,

crumbs falling from her apron folds.

There. She points to a key passage

about the Battle of Sedan and Napoleon III.


Her finger smears the margin

of the Franco-Prussian War.


I nod long enough to make her go away,

then return to the short description

of the Paris siege, the starving people

eating the animals in the zoo.


I reread the one sentence about Castor

and Pollux, the beloved elephants

they shot for steak

until I surprise myself with tears.



Whose Side is God on? 


The first



falls on



and kills


the only




in the city




Multiple Pushcart nominee Melissa Carl’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, and magazines, both print and online, including Amoskeag: The Journal of Southern New Hampshire UniversityMelusineThe Freshwater JournalThe Broken Plate ReviewcellpoemsCircleShowCurio Poetry, Third WednesdayIn Posse ReviewOff the Coast MagazineMouse Tales Press,  and the anthologies American Society: What Poets See, And Love, Bigger Than They Appear, The Waiting Room Reader II, and  Yesterday, I Will among others.  Her most recent collection, Brutal Allure, was published in 2011.  She teaches in York, PA where she resides with her husband, son, and dingo.

About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for short historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.
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