The Sun At Midnight
The Venus Hottentot (1825)
1. Cuvier
Science, science, science!Everything is beautiful
blown up beneath my glass.Colors dazzle insect wings.
A drop of water swirlslike marble. Ordinary
crumbs become stalactitesset in perfect angles
of geometry I’d thoughtimpossible. Few will
ever see what I seethrough this microscope..
Cranial measurementscrowd my notebook pages,
and I am moving closer,close to how these numbers
signify aspects ofnational character.
Her genitaliawill float inside a labeled
pickling jar in the Muséede l’Homme on a shelf
above Broca’s brain:“The Venus Hottentot.”
Elegant facts await me.Small things in this world are mine.
2.
There is unexpected sun todayin London, and the clouds thatmost days sift into this cagewhere I am working have dispersed.I am a black cutout againsta captive blue sky, pivotingnude so the paying audiencecan view my naked buttocks.
I am called “Venus Hottentot.”I left Capetown with a promiseof revenue: half the profitsand my passage home: A boon!Master’s brother proposed the trip;the magistrate granted me leave.I would return to my family a duchess, with watered-silk
dresses and money to grow food,rouge and powders in glass pots,silver scissors, a lorgnette,voile and tulle instead of flax,cerulean blue insteadof indigo. My brother woulddevour sugar-studded non-pareils, pale taffy, damask plums.
That was years ago. London’s circuses are florid and filthy,swarming with cabbage-smellingcitizens who stare and query,“Is it muscle? bone? Or fat?”My neighbor to the left isThe Sapient Pig, “The OnlyScholar of His Race.” He plays
at cards, tells time and fortunesby scraping his hooves. Behindme is Prince Kar-mi, who archeslike a rubber tree and stares backat the crowd from under the crookof his knee. A professionalanimal trainer shouts my cues. There are singing mice here.
“The Ball of Duchess DuBarry”:In the engraving I lurchtowards the belles dames, mad-eyed, andthey swoon. Men in capes and pince-nezshield them. Tassels dance at my hips.In this newspaper lithographmy buttocks are shown swollenand luminous as a planet.
Monsieur Cuvier investigatesbetween my legs, poking, prodding,sure of his hypothesis.I half expect him to pull silkscarves from inside me, paper poppies,then a rabbit! He complainsat my scent and does not thinkI comprehend, but I speak
English. I speak Dutch. I speaka little French as well, andlanguages Monsieur Cuvierwill never know have names.Now I am bitter and nowI am sick. I eat brown bread, drink rancid brother. I miss good sun,miss Mother’s sadza. My stomach
is frequently queasy from muttonchops, pale potatoes, blood sausage.I was certain that this would bebetter than farm life. I amthe family entrepreneur!But there are hours in every dayto conjure my imaginarydaughters, in banana skirts
and ostrich-feather fans.Since my own genitals are publicI have made other parts private.In my silence, I possessmouth, larynx, brain, in a singlegesture. I rub my hairwith lanolin, and pose in profilelike a painted Nubian
archer, imagining gold leafwoven through my hair, and diamonds.Observe the wordless Odalisque.I have not forgotten my Xhosaclicks. My flexible tongueand healthy mouth bewilderthis man with his rotting teeth.If he were to let me rise up
from this table, I’d spirithis knives and cut out his black heart,seal it with science fluid inside a bell jar, place it on a lowshelf in a white man’s museumso the whole world could seeit was shriveled and hard,geometric, deformed, unnatural.

The Venus Hottentot (1825)

1. Cuvier

Science, science, science!
Everything is beautiful

blown up beneath my glass.
Colors dazzle insect wings.

A drop of water swirls
like marble. Ordinary

crumbs become stalactites
set in perfect angles

of geometry I’d thought
impossible. Few will

ever see what I see
through this microscope..

Cranial measurements
crowd my notebook pages,

and I am moving closer,
close to how these numbers

signify aspects of
national character.

Her genitalia
will float inside a labeled

pickling jar in the Musée
de l’Homme on a shelf

above Broca’s brain:
“The Venus Hottentot.”

Elegant facts await me.
Small things in this world are mine.

2.

There is unexpected sun today
in London, and the clouds that
most days sift into this cage
where I am working have dispersed.
I am a black cutout against
a captive blue sky, pivoting
nude so the paying audience
can view my naked buttocks.

I am called “Venus Hottentot.”
I left Capetown with a promise
of revenue: half the profits
and my passage home: A boon!
Master’s brother proposed the trip;
the magistrate granted me leave.
I would return to my family 
a duchess, with watered-silk

dresses and money to grow food,
rouge and powders in glass pots,
silver scissors, a lorgnette,
voile and tulle instead of flax,
cerulean blue instead
of indigo. My brother would
devour sugar-studded non-
pareils, pale taffy, damask plums.

That was years ago. London’s 
circuses are florid and filthy,
swarming with cabbage-smelling
citizens who stare and query,
“Is it muscle? bone? Or fat?”
My neighbor to the left is
The Sapient Pig, “The Only
Scholar of His Race.” He plays

at cards, tells time and fortunes
by scraping his hooves. Behind
me is Prince Kar-mi, who arches
like a rubber tree and stares back
at the crowd from under the crook
of his knee. A professional
animal trainer shouts my cues. 
There are singing mice here.

“The Ball of Duchess DuBarry”:
In the engraving I lurch
towards the belles dames, mad-eyed, and
they swoon. Men in capes and pince-nez
shield them. Tassels dance at my hips.
In this newspaper lithograph
my buttocks are shown swollen
and luminous as a planet.

Monsieur Cuvier investigates
between my legs, poking, prodding,
sure of his hypothesis.
I half expect him to pull silk
scarves from inside me, paper poppies,
then a rabbit! He complains
at my scent and does not think
I comprehend, but I speak

English. I speak Dutch. I speak
a little French as well, and
languages Monsieur Cuvier
will never know have names.
Now I am bitter and now
I am sick. I eat brown bread, 
drink rancid brother. I miss good sun,
miss Mother’s sadza. My stomach

is frequently queasy from mutton
chops, pale potatoes, blood sausage.
I was certain that this would be
better than farm life. I am
the family entrepreneur!
But there are hours in every day
to conjure my imaginary
daughters, in banana skirts

and ostrich-feather fans.
Since my own genitals are public
I have made other parts private.
In my silence, I possess
mouth, larynx, brain, in a single
gesture. I rub my hair
with lanolin, and pose in profile
like a painted Nubian

archer, imagining gold leaf
woven through my hair, and diamonds.
Observe the wordless Odalisque.
I have not forgotten my Xhosa
clicks. My flexible tongue
and healthy mouth bewilder
this man with his rotting teeth.
If he were to let me rise up

from this table, I’d spirit
his knives and cut out his black heart,
seal it with science fluid inside 
a bell jar, place it on a low
shelf in a white man’s museum
so the whole world could see
it was shriveled and hard,
geometric, deformed, unnatural.

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