Letter to Emperor Li Shih-min


The first time I saw you,
You wore green silk embroidered in gold,
And you were mounted on a gray stallion.
I peered at you from behind the curtain
Of my sedan-chair.
Not at you exactly, but at your hands.
They were so beautiful
I dared not raise my eyes to your face.
You spoke briefly with my father, also mounted.

On my thirteenth birthday
Father presented me to you.
You were seated on the Jade Throne,
Hands resting on your knees.
I stared at them enraptured
Until you asked me to look up.
Your face, My Lord,
Was like sunlight after a deluge.
I nearly wept in wonder.

Yesterday father informed me
That on my fourteenth birthday
I am to become your empress.
Longing to see you before then, I went,
Disguised, to this morning’s hearings,
Standing with those who came to settle disputes.
I marveled at the wisdom of your rulings.
As I turned to leave, an old man in rags
Was dragged before you.
I longed to feed and comfort him,
Yet you didn’t let him speak.
You ordered him to be dragged through the streets
By a team of wild horses
To the distant place of beheading.

Emperor, my love for you crumbled;
For I saw that your heart was not beautiful.
If we marry, I shall not give you joy;
I shall lie a limp rag in your bed,
Shrinking from the touch of your beautiful hands.
Other nobles seek husbands for their daughters;
Please release me and favor one of them.

May R. Kinsolving