Rich People in Paintings,

moustached, bejeweled, or bejowled,
peer from the walls. A pinched cigarette
burns and smoke threads the afternoon.

No calling cards await on a silver tray
& being painted bores them too:
Men in tennis whites or one whose hand
weights the globed newel post

or home from the hunt in pink coat
and canary vest, riding crop clutched
in a gloved hand—the waiting day
a bright gleam on his black boots.

Behind him, the gilt frame of another scene
and a casement window that must open
on pedigreed pets, horses, and markets
waiting to be mastered. What will he mount

next? Somewhere a sailboat creaks against
a dock or the open eye of a canoe is beached
at the edge of a pond still as the hopelessly
lazy Mlle G, shoulders chalky with powder,

posed in the palm court, where bulbs break
into bloom, the white throats of daffodils
frilled as lace that lines her cuffs
while she dreams of chapel bells and school,

back bay clubs, an island braceleted
by seas, and pygmy deer they shot
and stuffed one season. Across from her,
a young mistress of the breakfast nook

peels an impossible sun. The rind unfurls
on the tablecloth’s vast winter, a snowfield
for two more oranges and a dish of melon
sliced to smiles. Upstairs, unpainted spaniels

loll that were bred to fill the space a body
makes, and a clamshell case closes on its string
of pearls. Let those who owned the world
sneer or sigh. Now they’re simply owned.

Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Key. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2019.