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Cotillion: Danse Macabre.

(from Belle)

Remember the Bastille!
 some wit toasted, and we raised our flutes for freedom, liberte
, since the pale
champagne was French. I wore my best muslin and the scent of
honeysuckle. If I must move among them with guile,
I reasoned, why not savor the benefits in style? Also, they served
oysters and honeyed ham
so sweet the war seemed distant. Smoke and aroma of cigars, the gleam of
polished boots, even spurs.
Yes, Yankee Cavaliers! I hated them all but wore my gown the color of
tea with panache among the luxuries,
and even then I wondered how to tell this story, how to alter history,
just a woman ... no, still a girl.
"Exude mystery," Hannah said, "and you will spark
intrigue." Almost a million troops in the field and so many
secrets! Even now, I think slavery was not at the root so much as five
hundred rich men thirsty
for blood ... or perhaps just appetite for brass and braid, the chance
to bivouac under stars. When the band
struck up "Lancers Quadrille," we pranced and swirled, the
shimmering silk and shades of lilac, of peach and perry,
a june-bug green in fashion that year, and lace the color of salt, which
was scarce.
A ridiculous Major Redstone "coaxed" me to the verandah (a
shoddy affair pleading for paint) and would woo "dear Belle, such a
pert lady"
back to his hayseed Kentucky. I thought him a traitor to the South but
dazzled him with Milton,
in case he might prove of use. A freedman played the spinet with such
skill, I wish I'd asked where he learned. Eighteen
and world-ignorant, I thought at the time "inborn, natural, music
as God's gift in return for making them simple."
My folly. The evening was young, the war as well. What I learned, I
struggle to tell, even if--by candlelight
in a cheap theater, reciting my "exploits" as "La Belle
Rebel"-- the one I want to enlighten is myself,
as if hard Hell could be averted in the end by how you spell and spiel
your wicked life.
Past fifty, I know better, and worse. No scripture, this story of perils
is my own creation, sly chapter and weary verse. 
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Author:Smith, R.T.
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Poem
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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