In The voice of Émilie Du Chatelet (1706-1749)
She was a great man whose only fault was being a woman. ( Voltaire )

(Poem by Wendy Howe )

I cannot calculate why the stars
governed my birth with more genius
than graceful movement of foot or hand.

I had a bold imagination
lodged in a girl's body grown
awkwardly tall and thin,
a sunflower towering
over the garden's petite blossoms.

Father shook his head and hired
tutors to perfect my feminine skills,
hoping I would grow more poised, become
charmingly coy.

My hands played the spinet. My passion
took science for a true lover
unbuttoning the galaxy's shirt
and watching planets spill
into my lap -- each one

round and radiant as it turned
on its axis
of spatial equations
that drew light, infused me
with the dreams of Newton.

To that study, I gave sheer devotion,
bared the vulnerable muse -- not even
my husband or other suitors viewed
when I pleased them by floating
one breast on the camisole's tide
of lace, moonlight bleaching

its perfect fullness
that ripened from nursing
a child I feared
could threaten my artistry
and health.

Years later, my anxiety
proved true when I died
six days after giving birth
to a girl , my last child

who cried for milk or love
as I passed into a garden
far beyond her window.

Marble sea nymphs
poured water from a fountain
while I knelt
surrounded by trees, lost
under bridal skirts of glare.

© 2011, Wendy Howe. E-mail.

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Someone Immortal
had asked for my hand --
and glancing back, I realized

Émilie as a name
might always walk
in the shadow of Emile
but as a woman -- she walked
on the horizon of ideas.

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