This poem was inspired by a recent read of Paulo Coelho’s “The Spy,” a sometimes-fictional rendering of French dancer Mata Hari. Known for elevating nude dancing to the level of true art, she became embroiled in politics later in her career, eventually (and incorrectly) being accused of spying for the Germans during WWI. Coelho’s treatment of her story is not apologetic, but seeks to capture the mess of emotions that swirled around Mata Hari herself, and those who both loved and despised her. Consider this a paean to the woman, and to the truths she illuminated.
i’ve walked by mata hari many times before:
the 18th century scent of a 20th century woman.
sometimes, she wears a purple silk bodice
to engage me; and other times she tugs at
my hormones with lace. i question myself
when i’m near her—my incontinent espionage
wrought of steelwork patriotism. and my sexuality.
women like this come, but only once in a while.
mostly they are known for going—flashes of
fiction in encyclopedias of war. but even smoking
on a park bench beside her legs was enough
to stall evil for a while. all that sin and sex to
distract from the real devils: you and i.
she was taller than the eiffel tower. until she fell into the
trenches. at least they kept the iron watchman after
her head sagged with bullets; like H21 herself,
the tower has always kept vigil at impossible heights.