The Home Front

by Sarah Kennedy

            Bess of Hardwick was the richest woman, after the queen, in Tudor England

But why next door to the last house?  Unless
            she liked to stand upstairs in the new one,

the larger mansion, and see her progress
            from middle-class comfort to wealth marked out

by the path from door to door, from “Hardwick
            Hall,” old style, to “more glass than wall.”  The pair

of stately chairs with their huffy arms, raised
            at the far end of a receiving room

whisper throne under their canopy, designed
            to honor the queen, who never showed.  Bess:

not much diminished from Elizabeth,
            who was always down at her own court, not

a woman who liked to travel as far
            north as Derbyshire.  A transparency,

a permeable skin of window, one
            widow’s looking glass during those winter

evenings when the sparse and faint stars lingered
            as points of light along her brow, where she

supervised the laying of the gardens,
            how the sunlight flayed the workers’ backs all

summer, a perfection just possible
            in peacetime, the heart of a new empire.

Her initials in stone are only topped
            by the filigreed crowns colonizing

the sky, lest anyone approaching make
            the error of misjudging her power.

The portrait hall holds royal relatives,
            instruments of leisure, a piano,

an old lute or two, a roll-out of rug.
            And where are the husbands and sons these days?—

Spreading the word of God, of investment,
            around the known world, and she imagines

she can hear ships in the distance, their squeak
            and roll, she can almost see those people

in those far-off lands brought closer—heathen,
            grotesque as the carvings in the poorer

home that stand now open to all weathers,
            their heads low, under her improving eye.