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Becoming Emma Frost took work.
First I had to turn hard
as lacquered nails; as ice; as a first-water diamond,
cut to draw first blood. I schooled
myself in the minutiae of self-possession,
mascara, rouge, latex and satin, where to show skin,
and when to flirt, and what I wouldn’t mind.

In youth I tried to mind
my manners. It didn’t work,
not even in school.
My brother, who shared almost everything but my skin,
my brother who found the world so hard
he did not want to remain here—my lost diamond,
who only needed a setting, who could possess

an enterprise or an empire, but never his unprepossess-
ing self, ran away to live inside his mind.
Growing up was like living inside a diamond:
to find my proper work
I had to buy a whole school.
The poise that for most of you would be hard
to keep up for an hour is now like a second skin.

Imagine if you had—so to speak—no skin.
If anybody could borrow your locked-up possessions.
What made you weep. What got you wet, or hard.
I think you’d want to hide. I think you’d mind.
Could you romance that way? Could you make it work?
My love once did. He was my rock. I was his diamond.
I bet you’d rather relive middle school.

Some days it’s like anywhere I go is a school,
with me the only teacher. The baseball diamond,
the dance studio, the gym, rules for who gets to show skin
and who has to run home and change, how to mark homework
and when to hand it back, and what possessions
you get to keep in your locker: of course I mind—
no vacation from running this place. Of course it’s hard.

But I can tell you what's truly, implacably hard:
losing one student, one kid that's yours. Then no diamond-
platinum-level pass for any club that any mind
on earth could fashion, no finishing school’s
velvet etiquette, could walk that back, skin
that cat, get a grip, or ever take possession
of such a grief-blasted heart. Then nothing works.

So I will be my own diamond. I will continue my radiant work.
I will risk all I possess, my darlings. It’s hard,
but under my flawless skin, in my well-prepared mind,
I have all the power I need. The world is my school.



Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her latest books are After Callimachus and Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems. She’s @accommodatingly on Twitter.

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10 Jun 2024

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