To Be a Princess

By Jessica Copenhaver

To Be A Princess

When I was ten,
still cradling a dream-soaked mind and a heart beating with hope
My parents gave me To be a Princess.
The book showed royalty’s reality, women viewed just like the napkins in their palaces—use once and discard. With each page turned, each line read, each story told, what I knew about princesses—my idols—became less, and less, and less.
And so, the crown broke, the dress tore and after only a decade of life, stories soured.
All I wanted was to meet these girls and ask them for the truth. Not a single story, but the individual tales I had never heard. For what is the use of a story?

Kaʻiulani,” I’d ask, “Kaʻiulani, tell me of Hawaii. Tell me of your isle of burning life, your crown of hibiscus, your ambition—filled up to your forehead so that it just might spill over with a bow. Tell me of your silencer. How Uncle Sam force-fed your “wild place” rancid sugar cane. Of Hawaii ponoʻī, Hawaii’s own, their voices strangled by the horn of a cargo ship. Tell me of your fight, and the thunderbolts hurled at you by men using greenbacks as Band-Aids to forget backs buried in the green of your hills. Tell me about the verbal volleys thrown by “scoffing, mocking, jeering oppressors” forming craters in your soul simply because your parent’s skin wasn’t a reflection. Trapped by others’ fear of combination, a tumor of self-destruction infecting the British institutions in Jamaica, manifesting in Apartheid, and even spreading to your northern bully.

Tell me of the ones who tore away at your flag—stripe by stripe—in the name of democracy.”
But others already told her story—so I hear nothing.

Ayesha,” I’d plead, “Ayesha tell me of the partition, of the ‘fallen women’ whose voices became murmurs in the bloody howl of independence. Tell me of the remaining countries—pieces of a broken frame unwilling to remember they once held a picture. Tell me of the landslide you rode through the doors of Parliament—the thousands of voices who finally had the courage to speak. Of your own muddy path to marriage as the ‘other wife’ still shaded by the spotlight of glamour.”
But others already told her story—so I hear nothing.

Women’s shouts stifled to murmurs by the suppressing hand of “reason,”
the thin chiffon of feminist power hiding Ice Candy Man underneath,
applauded for keeping their “woman’s head uplifted” even as those “supporters” squeeze their—and other forgotten females’—trials further and further into the dirt.
For that is the story never heard—that is To Be a Princess.


Jessica Copenhaver is a freshman Public Policy major at Georgia Institute of Technology. In her poem, she considers the obscured narratives of princesses and women as a whole. Her inspiration for the poem originates from one of her favorite books as a child, Hugh Brewster’s To be a Princess, as well as Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and various post-colonial texts. She argues that the stories of women—even women of power—in countries exposed to imperialism are often condensed into what Spivak calls a “coherent” but “counterproductive” “narrative” (“Can the Subaltern Speak,” Reflections on the History of An Idea, 23).The poem questions this narrative formation of women in power while also alluding to silencing experiences felt by a majority of women.

This post’s featured image is of Kaʻiulani and her family in Hawaii. The image can be found here.

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