Ode to Paulina
LEONTES: a gross hag [ . . . ] I’ll ha’ thee burnt.
PAULINA: I care not:
It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in’t.
Blessèd battleaxe. Dragon. Shrew.
If you were underwater, you’d be
anemone, harboring hunted
fish in your stinging arms. If you were
desert-dweller, you’d be saguaro,
a nest of owlets burrowed
in your trunk’s parliament. Nag,
hag, holy ogress: Paulina, you’re
all spine & prick, skin of thorn
shielding victim from tyrant’s crack.
Unshakeable ally to jailed queen
& nursling, you turn virago, fishwife,
crone, scold—your tongue a cat
-o’nine-tails, each word a wound.
She-devil, termagant, fire-eater,
harridan—under a bully’s blaze,
(the cast-iron nerve) you refused
to fear his torch. Hellcat, harpy,
spitfire: If you were a creature of air,
you’d clutch sun in your talons.
You put wit in witch, bite
in bitch. Teach us how to be
women in a world that wants us
dead. Lead us to the stake’s phallus
and back. Teach us to laugh
at its scorch.
Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer —Simone Weil
I pray to the doe and her twin fawns their legs lifting like stilts out of the wet grass I pray to the delivery woman in her mail truck as it rumbles around my path on the asphalt smashing a pen whose ink blackens the black tar I pray to the spider’s web as it lands a sticky kiss on my lips I pray to you Mother to help me off with this relentless sadness this oily blue suit not a hot shower in a room of steam could scrub from my skin I pray to the mash of apricots fermenting on the sidewalk as I hoof it to work I pray to the lenticels like apricot lips sealed and silent on the nearby tree as I wait for the bus in the rain I pray to the V of white geese stitching cloud to cloud overhead and calling a kind of matins or more accurately a type of terce they pray southward to the lake’s cold shore and I pray to the bus’s kneel and the driver’s smile and the back support of a firm seat then I bow my head and pray to a book of poems to carry me through another hour