Natasha Trethewey

Countess P—’s Advice for New Girls

Storyville, 1910

Look, this is a high class house—polished 
mahogany, potted ferns, rugs two inches thick. 
The mirrored parlor multiplies everything – 

one glass of champagne is twenty. You’ll see 
yourself a hundred times. For our customers 
you must learn to be watched. Empty 

your thoughts—think, if you do, only 
of your swelling purse. Hold still as if 
you sit for a painting. Catch light 

in the hollow of your throat; let shadow dwell 
in your navel and beneath the curve 
of your breasts. See yourself through his eyes—

your neck stretched long and slender, your back 
arched—the awkward poses he might capture 
in stone. Let his gaze animate you, then move 

as it flatters you most. Wait to be 
asked to speak. Think of yourself as molten glass—
expand and quiver beneath the weight of his breath. 

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. 
Become what you must. Let him see whatever 
he needs. Train yourself not to look back.