After the plague
we put away our lamentation,
our children’s cradles,
and dance with all the required ecstasy.
The monks follow us with brooms, barefoot.
The doctors in the next room
heal each other.
A woman in a mask leads the midwife
by a leash through the rooms.
Behind her hood she warns,
A nation has ended, but the world continues,
jubilant and unclean.
Outside, spring continues without us.
We loved a god we didn’t believe in,
and believed in a god we didn’t love,
but neither let our children live.
Through cracks in the boarded windows, I see broken rocking horses in the streets. I hear nothing. Nothing. Not even the wind. I want to go through the houses and search for the living, but I am bound to the known. A sore rises on my scalp. I tell no one. The test of faith is not death, but fear.
No one wants to remember
how we found bodies in trees
and left them
unburied in the sky.
On ruined carpets we wallow
with pomegranates and sweet wine.
We want to forget the wayfarer
when he asked for food.
The truffles and caviar are ours.
And the figs.
The rosemary butter and ginger tea.
The killdeer singing in the wet grass.
We aren’t good with memories, but we are serious
About arias and cinnamon.
Harps and honey.
I met my love at the gallows where his father taught him to tie a noose. He lashed his wrists to mine. We tried to burn every cathedral in the country. Each time the stones bewildered us, so we traveled to the forest of the damned to baptize the trees. We wanted to become shadowless, like the sea, but the darkness that followed us shared our names.
We steal an hour from the future and burn
all the books so history begins with us.
In the beginning light begat shadow,
flowers begat fruit,
but stars were fatherless.
The wheat, radiant and unkind.
We grow bored with paradise
and take down the old commandments,
but can’t write new ones.
We sell each other stories of happiness
but the pages are blank.
The starling starts to charge for its song,
its nest heavy with copper coins.
I know nothing of my father’s myths, but my mother’s parables are sewn into my skirt. She gave me tarnished idols and her long shadow. I come from a line of obedient women who want me to believe only the strong lie under the stones they’re given, but I am not buried under the cairn. I am smearing blood on the lintels even though the angel already passed over.
Now, in the last world,
we bury nightingales
beneath the floor.
Trackers with their ears to the ground
for angels approaching.
Where is the saint, mortally torn and wearing a hood of stars,
bearing her own redemption—
a heart of thorns and a stone book?
Rumors make women rush
with tributes of roasted songbirds
to the fallen temples,
but the epidemic continues.
We remain empty.
Before they left
priests tied laws to our wrists that said:
Grief is a slow animal
bearing an imperfect hope.
I try to name this feeling. This terrible lightness others call peace. I felt it once, watching bare trees, waiting for wary deer to approach the salt. Nothing sang. Bears gave birth in their sleep, and the cubs crawled out to admire their indigo shadows in the snow.
The doctors name our malady—
Hysteria: suffering of the womb.
We want to be healed,
relieved of our burden,
so we remake our children with clay,
and offer our breasts
with the hesitation of new brides.
We let waves
rock them past the shoals,
set fire to our dresses
to transform ourselves
into the ashes that pursue them across the sea.
I gave birth to a daughter, denied her three times, and when I found her at the ocean’s edge, I wrapped her in a winding sheet and offered her to the man who walked toward me on the water.