The Empress of Malcolm Square

Who was that woman who painted her cheeks with flowers, her hair in disarray?
She walked unabashed in the plaza, passed shopkeepers who hid behind their wares.
We never knew where she slept at night, how she spent the other hours of the day.

She’d disappear during the monsoon months like mist dissolving into grey;
then when the weather turned warmer, we’d hear her shrill cries pierce the air.
She smeared flowers on her cheeks or wound them through her hair in disarray.

She had a name I can’t recall; I only know it reeked of solitude. Fey,
unabashed, her tattered skirts swept plaza stones with eerie flair—
Who knew where she slept at night, how she spent the other hours of the day?

Who didn’t tremble a little at her approach? And yet her eyes— steely, grey,
sharper than the chiseled moon— it seemed could size you up, intuiting your despair.
They say she knew the future: her painted cheek, a screen for our own disarray.

I thought I knew who she once was: an artist’s model, an ingenue, stylish, blasé—
There was this talk: of course a lover, a jilting. (What we don’t know, we embroider.)
We never saw where she slept at night, how she fed the other hours of the day.

She’s her own fable, fantastic narrative: lucid in survival, she laced
hibiscus in her hair, placed unashamed bid for what was due: her share.
Gypsy with flowered cheeks, with tresses in ravaged disarray—
Love’s still our common dream, imperfect to this day.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Series Navigation← Notes to/on the plagiaristPrelude →

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

2 Replies to “The Empress of Malcolm Square”

  1. She was Aling Bebang. Her name left my lips unchecked the moment I saw Hugues Merle’s The Lunatic of Étretat recently. Thank you for this lovely post.

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