When I Only Knew Your Name

Issue 12 | Summer 2024 |

 

 

after Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Oil on canvas

 

Fascinating, the woman behind
the image next to Olympia, the one who portrayed
a prostitute’s maid, nameless over a century.

Why shouldn’t I go exploring in the dark
to find more of what made you?

Why shouldn’t I think about your dressmaker
or if you knew how to sew and where you found
affordable fabrics to make your pink and white frock,
the best one you had?

Why shouldn’t I think about your family
in the Caribbean or in Africa—
if you ever saw them again?

Why shouldn’t I think about your freedom?
In 1848 you would have been a teen
wondering what to do with all of it

knowing you would have to find work
so you could eat and sleep indoors?

I wonder about men who came into
your life and how they treated you.
Were they tender or brutal or both?

How long did you live?
Where are you buried?

Who cried when you died?
Who stood by your grave?