Sophia Behrs at Seventeen
photographer, painter, writer; mother of 13; wife of Tolstoy
This is what she is like,
the year before she marries him --
before he gives her, this fresh-hearted
girl (yes, I know she looks feisty,
but come on), his diaries to read
which tell in searing detail
of sex with another woman;
before being pregnant from
ages eighteen to forty-four
and burying five children;
before he makes her nurse their firstborn
despite the open sores in her breasts;
before seven times copying out
War and Peace from his tangled scribbles,
feeding and caring for family, servants
and the ubiquitous hangers-on
and pleading with him for years
not to gift away their livelihood--
Sophia, before she draws up from inside
a bucketful of something, and starts
furiously writing her own stories--
sketching flowers—taking pictures
of everything, later developed in the pantry.
Before she takes her own portrait,
a dolled-up grandmother, still
beautiful. You forget the husband’s scowl
at her side: light flocks to her, the old woman,
same as at seventeen. Look, here is Sophia.
This poem was first published in the chapbook, Midnight at the Law Firm (Coal City Press, 2015)
Laura Chalar was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. She is a lawyer and writer whose most recent poetry collection, Unlearning, was published by Coal City Press in 2018.
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