Great Catherine

Wendy Vardaman


Watching my child command

a stage of soldiers and servants, of courtiers and supplicants, I can

believe that she’s Empress

of all the Russias,

fluent in every

European tongue, ready

at a shot to trade her mantle for

a Hussar’s uniform, carrying herself as straight as a ruler,

as the stick

she threatens to have the disagreeable and disobedient beaten with.


She wears on her feet,

at fifteen, her first heels, manages without misstep despite

the gown that trails the floor the heavy, jewel-encrusted train.

At home she complains


about how ridiculous

she feels. In the last scene, the stiff English

captain whose heart, in the end,

she has not captured

because he has no heart, presumes

to give the Queen bachelor’s advice:

Marry, he says,

the price of children who, when young, will settle around your knees

on winter nights like these, then comfort you


in your decline. And I do

take comfort here, watching her,

despite the unpleasant fact that, anxious for empire,

she will leave, leaving behind her subjects who grieve,

who seek their consolation in philosophy.



Wendy Vardaman,,  is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press) & the co-editor of Verse Wisconsin,