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(On Caterina Hooghstaet', 1657 by Rembrandt.)
Although I forswore lace and elaborate cuffs
and dress in black, I allow myself one vanity:
my gold ear-wires. Tong-like, they pinch
my cheeks - so I have my punishment on earth.
You'll notice my tasselled collar and handkerchief.
Expelling snot into fingers is not for the genteel.
Don't listen to tattle. I choose to live separately -
whatever my husband says.
He denounces me from the pulpit, saying I lavish
more care on my parakeet than the poor. It's true.
I prefer his raucous squawk, to the ranting
of preachers and the tut-tutting of neighbours.
His tongue is black and evil as his heart.
He'll steal titbits then cackle to alert me.
Then he cocks his head and fixes me with
a bright eye. It's no fun if he's not found out.
He's fussy and preens in a flurry of dust.
Then his gnarled feet dance to a military two-step.
He's a dapper old gent, a reprobate.
Yes, he nips my fingers, but tenderly.
So, childless, I bequeath this portrait of myself
and my parrot, to you, my three-year old nephew,
who may otherwise not remember me,
so that you know you come from rebellious stock
and when you are older and weighed down
with Must Do's, Ought To's and Should's,
remember your aunt and her irreverent parrot.
Give a squawk. Flutter a few feathers.
(Published in 'The Knuckle End' anthology (Freight, 2004)