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What Is Left

by Nadia Herman Colburn

After Anne Boleyn

Good people, I am come hither to die.
For according to the law, and by the law,
I am judged to die.

The nineteenth of May, year one thousand five hundred thirty-six,
where there, in the particular, the clouds lie low
as a cloying ambergris throng at the horizon

threatening to fall. One raven shifts its weight,
lifts up, up from the tree, and, atop its arch,
catches the air above the crowd.

When she is done, they take her
to the final place in which she'll be alive,
she who has been first to enter every room.

Never again will she enter any room, open
to air that won't protect her, to the finely moving
clouds. And still she moves, though she feels

she is no more. She brings her right leg up,
thigh taut, calf relaxed, and lowers it,
toes pointed slightly down, expecting the first stair—

the one she spent her whole life practicing for—
and taken now by law, her left leg raised,
her weight transferred to the higher part of her own

self that mounts the scaffold, now:
for she thinks nothing now.
What was it being queen?

Who envied her? She drops her ermine cloak,
gray damask gown, and stands
in the May-wind on her own

stage. And when she kneels—
her hair pulled up into a simple cap, exposing
her white and slender neck—the sky that she had covered grows

just that much, slightly, larger.


Nadia Herman Colburn’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, APR, Conjunctions, Harvard Review, The Yale Review, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. She won a PEN/New England Discovery Award in poetry, was awarded a teaching fellowship from the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and received honorable mention two years in a row for the Van Rensselear poetry prize judged by Kenneth Koch. (3/2006)

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