Sous Rature





Listen daughter
and behold: 
forget your people
and your father’s house


the child arrived on
wings like an angel
he was so lovely
she cried to see him


what they said:[what she heard]:

our physical desire is the Devil’s offspring

what once broken
cannot be repaired
in this darkness
the light won’t open

bearing this knowledge
in that time, the broken
teeth, the smell

and I take this as writ they are the Devil’s cart-horses

For whomsoever will be saved


she was in a large pain during the birth:
two nights they insisted she must die

would be taken to that place

but she survived...

in the night the cry
pierced us, the horses
shifted, the cow rolled back
her eyes, the cat stopped
pulled her ears back

and the child   with wings like a dove

freakish, without a cry

and covered
with a thin film of hair

she loved her little
bundle the light
shone on her

she navigated the darkness
in that time


she adored the child
the wings, the fur

at the end of the millennium
it can only be a sign

a wonder

do you know what pain is?


at night she had a choking
rising and gone

Cast out thine enemy               Fear

Call Fortitude in this time of darkness

“but I cannot breathe

hold her


there were many horrors
             the open sores and the rampage
             of witchery

the wings to fly across the
moon at night

it was there, within her, that those that must bleed
and those that beget light met

the wonders were married

before the turning of the millennium
as she held the child--folded it’s wings
petted its soft body
fed it her own milk:

there was a pestilence that stretched
before the armies
in waves you could
see the flames and fumes rise from the ground
rushing towards them

and there will be a pestilence upon you
when you turn your back
on these words as they are written

be afraid


the form of the letter went as follows:

Mary’s part is silence and peace from all of the noise of the world

the physical desire
is the Devil’s offspring

but the child grew up
and flew yes
flew into the night
above the fires

it was,
the Dark Ages

whether it be
the comet at night
or the eclipse at day

the world was full of
wondrous things


within this silence, Mary’s silence, you will find

there is, they say insistently, a difference
between Mary and Martha

the bustler and the silent

but not the Magdalen


these are the things
that happened:

a calf born
with two heads

a cat seen
black as nothing without
a blemish of white

a spider’s web strong enough
to hold a man
and a horse

the inking out
of the moon


These children fluttered home            

that child was winged and though
he flew to the sky his wings were not
singed by the sun.  His name was

she had not seen the light of the morning before they came for her and

she lived in the millennium--with
in it and she searched for the end
of the night 

She was connected to the child by a strand
so thin and tight so as to make
the web of the spiders seem like gossamer
to the fly

remember the Devil’s horse rides herself straight to hell


(She would so like to wring his neck

take him with her hands to this place)

the child crying wings
and all like an angel

like a beautiful angel


when they first handed
the child to her

(when they whispered and sucked in their breath
and turned away
and drew the sign of the cross
above across)

it was as though she had stepped out
of that part of herself that was
the darkness

as if

she turned back around to the darkness
and said
this is me”


in the Dark Ages
women lived in secret places
inside the body

of these places
nothing is written

so how do we know where the beginning
of this story is?

where does she begin and end,
the mother?
when the babe comes into being,
when the babe
begins to cry?  (when the wings
are all important?) 

you can hide a flying child
for only so long


but if

in that act you bring forth the devil to your bedchamber

and if

you are prostituting yourself with the devil of hell and he fathers on you the children who you bear

what can you expect from that union
but a child with wings?

a furry child?


what I am writing about here
is what is in the pit
of myself--
black light

what I see in my future offspring

and myself

for if it is born handicapped, as often happens it is a grief to her and shame to all of its family


but truly the child was a wonder
and did rise to the light

his mother

did think he was a wonder

and believed that there had been the highest
love in the creation of the child

(all that foul pleasure is sated with filthiness in the space of a moment)

but what a secret to keep in those days

(become lower than a beast for such poor exchange)

since in the creation

you will never sing a song in heaven but must sing a song of lamentation for evermore in hell


Keep guard over her then


Jennifer Calkins

Note on the text:  quotes are from Medieval English Prose for Women:  From the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse, edited by Bella Millett and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne
and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson ed. by Thomas H. Johnson.