On Rereading Madame Bovary at Forty

By Erin Redfern

Featured art: The Book of Light by Odilon Redon

Finally we got to read a book
with a woman’s name––your name.
One of the greats, our teacher said.

At fifteen I could not scorn
your far-flung, dark-horse longings.
I saw in you a girl like me seeking

something big as love.
I didn’t know you were Gustave’s
femme mâché, surrogate

for bourgeois greed, excuse
for risqué docudrama,
trumped-up thing riffling open

for anyone’s leisure.
And did he put some body
English on you! Your dainty

feet, your frothy knickers,
your India-ink eyes––
wordless telegraphs

vaulting everyone’s crumbling
moral breastwork.
He made you, mistress,

delectable, then grilled you
over an open flame
of quick trysts and heartbreak.

I blame your tale
on the teller, savant
of armchair critiques

and Near East brothels,
Master of Malcontent
who fashioned your tawdry

cravings, then upped the dose
to lethal. He even
pulled back the sheets

so we could see you
in bed, puddling
like desire’s afterbirth.

I will never fault you
for gobbling arsenic
just to get out of that book.

Erin Redfern’s work has recently appeared in Fire & Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager), the New Ohio Review, Split Rock Review, and the North American Review, where it was runner-up for the James Hearst Prize. Her chapbook is Spellbreaking and Other Life Skills (Blue Lyra Press). She teaches writing in San Jose, California. erinredfern.net.

Originally published in NOR 22.

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