La Infanta Margarita by Diego Velázquez

by Carolyn Oliver

after Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess

Infanta, you dance as a gull sways on a salt breeze, as a fan swings closed between jewelled fingers, as a whisper stalls in a hot room. Eyes tally your subtle steps, the weight and cost of the silk heaped about your narrow hips. All dazzle-daunted, except the little maid, the one you left rubbing her jaw in your new apartments. Hidden on the balcony, she fingers the rough underside of the new tapestry, clicks your secret sweets against her teeth.

Infanta, when at last they part your babe from your torn body, silence will settle like long rests between the lilting phrases of the dance you once knew. Volta, and then all your attendants will tread pianissimo through the last movement, while a regal cadence inks the score, drop by stately scarlet drop, onto the chamber boards. Your brown-toothed maid will scour the rust away, faint note of honey lingering on her breath.

Painting of La infanta Margarita by Diego Velázquez circa 1653-1654, courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, accession number GG_321, via Wikimedia Commons.

Carolyn Oliver’s very short prose and prose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, jmww, Unbroken, Tin House Online, CHEAP POP, Midway Journal, and New Flash Fiction Review, among other journals. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links her writing can be found at