“Portrait of the Second Wife as Understudy” by Amber Rambharose

Amber Rambharose


The body hadn’t even cooled before I took
her place. I’d practiced my lines for months, fine-tuning
the flutter in my throat. I only read Nabokov
for two years to prepare
for the role. The night she wasn’t
home, I let one sock slide down around
my ankle. I could tell by scent
which pillow had been hers.

You squeezed my throat
the way the script dictated. I threw my pupils
up as wide as windows. The orchestra swelled
at precisely the right moment. The climax
was believable,

even if I sighed my sigh too long. I’ll do better
next time. Have I earned my scarlet dressing
room? Have I earned her tongue
brought to me on a platter?
If the reviews are glowing, may I eat her
heart? Oh, please. Please, let’s give them the myth
they all imagined. Let the curtain drop
hard enough to break
their backs and silence.

The audience believes
what it wants to believe. Let’s tell them
how it didn’t really happen.
Make sure they know she left you first,
that I step-ball-changed into the dance
she had abandoned. If I hadn’t
played the role so well, she might have
come back. Tell me I am better
than she was. Tell me my breasts are higher.
Tell me I am everything
you ever wanted.

Tell the stage director to place a pair
of Prada espadrilles by the front door.
Size eight. Dark blue. Exactly
where she left them.

from Rattle #47, Spring 2015


Amber Rambharose: “A mentor of mine told me that a successful poem is ‘someone in trouble singing.’ I spend a lot of time examining disaster; for me, writing poetry is putting them to music. I’ve always liked the idea that a poem can be fraught, fractured, off key, and still beautiful. Poetry is freeing in that way—its form doesn’t dictate what a writer can or cannot say so long as they have something to say and are singing at the top of their voices.”

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