You were older than I was when we first met,
twenty seven, a lady, a merchant’s daughter
married into the British aristocracy.
I was sixteen, a high school kid from New Jersey,
by my English teacher Mrs. Bradley (nee Polanski),
who not only wanted us to see European high culture up close,
but who carefully explained that Henry Clay Frick
was a millionaire who once boasted
that he could hire half the American working class
to kill the other half.
( Frick was too generous.
Americans will kill their fellow peasants for free,
not because they hope someday to be rich,
but because they believe deep in their hearts
that the rich deserve their deference
simply for being rich.)
I stared at your portrait not because you were pretty
but because you were real, someone I could have known,
someone who would live forever,
someone who would never grow old.
Now I am well into middle age
and you are still twenty seven.
You still have the confident smile
of a rich bourgeoisie,
who flirted your way into a title,
a Jane Austen heroine yet to be a character
in a novel, but forever young, and yes beautiful,
immortalized by Thomas Gainsborough,
a master of light, color and shadow.
And I am old and ugly
slouching towards the grave.