Why the Dauphin Won’t Consummate the Marriage by Kathryn Nuernberger


It took Louis XVI seven years to consummate his marriage to Marie Antoinette and to this day no one knows why.

Blundering? Phimosis? Moral frigidity? “Some have suggested the frenum is so short that the prepuce does not retract upon entry.”

“He inserts his member, stays there for two minutes without moving, withdraws without ejaculating, and, while still erect, bids her good night.”

I’ve been trying to be more honest lately.

Because I am lonely.

Sex was never easy for me either. I could blame the brainwashings of shame in my childhood or the unhelpful cutshots in those romantic comedies the patriarchy offers to us on platters with a flourish from its most dapper doms.

But honestly, I just blame myself.

His wife, the fourteen-year-old dauphine, complained he spent all of his days alone in his locksmith shop where she could not go to charm or enchant her fifteen-year-old husband.

“A tight prepuce, perhaps, prevents the head of the penis from being exposed.”

He would have required the use of forge and anvil for lathe turning, spring tempering, rivet and screw making, precise fitting, and hole punching.

He did not know he would be the last king of France.

“What he does not know he has no one to ask.”

The gates at Versailles had been left open for so many years, they could not be shut against the mob because of rust. Any man with a sword at his side was welcome to walk through the palace. Any woman with a proper dress could come to watch her queen eat. It was the duty of the royal family to let their people see them live.

This is the paradox of fame, right? How much would I like to be watched so closely right now by someone who just really wanted to know me?

The front plate and rim of a lock are joined with small rivets and should be so perfectly turned with a hammer that their location cannot be detected.

He had little conception of what his life might have been instead, though everyone around him, every ambassador, footman, royal physician, and Holy Roman Emperor of a brother-in-law had an idea in mind.

“He should be whipped until he discharges in anger like a donkey.”

“He could not be more unlike his father and his grandfather.”

The ingenuity of the locksmith is challenged by arranging the impediments or wards within the lock case.

In his mind he was small and sad. This is a common problem among men with the power to order a beheading.

He was an orphan, which is a common problem among kings.

He might have just tried to be happy with what he had. It was a lot, after all. But a locksmith knows you make a key out of what is not there, not what is.


Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of two poetry collections, The End of Pink and Rag & Bone. Her collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past, will be released by OSU Press in Fall 2017. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Crazyhorse, Diagram, Field, and Poetry International. She is an associate professor of creative writing at University of Central Missouri, where she also serves as the director of Pleiades Press.