Gather, Girls, the Roses

by Sarah Crossland

The Romanov daughters, St. Petersburg

In sarafans, barefoot, their skin so quiet
we thought they must have limbs of snow,

the northern girls taught mercies
to our mother—what had been

secrets of their village—to cure her
of her blooming heart. With mote

spoons, the children’s scissors
afforded us in sewing kits, we portioned

feverfew and all-heal, the snuffed moss
she’d set like sugar along her dark lip

to sniff. Ribbons of lemon peel, stinging,
soldered as the sun dried them goldly

on her temple where something
punishing pained her. We tracked prayers

through the house like mud. We ruined
every haircloth runner with our pacing.

The thought we harbored, true as it was not,
was that she had regretted us.

Instead of daughters, we would be roses
to her, throbbing in the dirt. At the opera

and newly wed, behind her eagle-feathered
fan, she bargained her breaths

for an heir. The diamonds covered
her with their milk, promising

plenty. There was so little she knew
how to say in Russian then—

only the infinitives she practiced
over for our father: to sing,

forget, believe.

Published on May 19, 2022