Rebecca Rolfe

by Natasha Bailey

And are you a king’s daughter?
I must admit this is not so
rather I am the daughter of trees
and broad Virginia valley,
of white-trimmed water and the skins of deer.
Of late, I am a daughter of the Lord, my lady
baptised in Jamestown these three years ago
and in this at least I am no more savage than you.
What say you of John Smith?
Indeed, I know not what to say.
There is a story that I saved his life,
laid my head upon his own
as my tribesmen gathered with clubs
to see the colour of a white man’s brains.
It might well have happened, it is a better tale
than to say that I was breaking the necks of birds
and plucking them, that I pitied him
as I did the naked birds.
My hands were full of feathers,
this is what I remember,
with tips as red as sand.
And how does England suit you, Mistress Rolfe?
Poorly at first, I will confess.
I did not care for the cold nor the crows,
the slimy depths of the Thames saddened me
too black for me to suppose it the Chickahominy.
Society was strange to me and still is
(forgive my bluntness, I mean no offence)
even with pearls in my ears
and Belgian lace at my throat.
My son is my joy,
Thomas Rolfe, named for the saint,
his skull is a tiny moon in my palm.
Like your children he will grow old here
and like any mother, I pray
he will not grow wise enough to see
how I stand out in any room