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The Third Consort

M. Cynthia Cheung | Poetry

Jane Seymour, the favorite (but only

after she died), married the king eleven days

from the day he beheaded

her predecessor. Imagine a bride

knowing that. It wasn’t rumor—

Jane’s craving for quails and her obsessions

with soft pearls, yellow yolks. If she’d been

any other man’s wife, stuffing

her cheeks would have been the single

most scandalous thing about her.

Did she even resent the poison tasters

taking an egg apiece?

Nobody wrote books about Jane, but

imagine they’d have her

saying she only believed in living

naturally, like keeping her skin milky,

or how she knew—without thinking—

how deep to curtsey. When Holbein arrived

to paint her portrait, she’d insist, Show them

no seams between my hands, or upon

my face—nothing but the jewels

of the king.

Perhaps it also seemed natural to wait

until she had sweated, pushed for two days,

and the servants had changed the bedding

a dozen times, to find that she had forgotten

what she was supposed to be doing,

her bowels spilling their contents

into her womb, and the midwives already

too busy. But Jane sat up when the king

arrived, awake enough to admit: A barking dog

always bites. Even then, her ladies couldn’t

tellwhether she meant God, the newborn prince,

or her husband, who asked her to please say it again.