Ortulana, Pregnant with Saint Clare
Favarone married me because I made him
look better—the good Catholic girl weds
the bad Catholic boy and he straightens out,
quits the whores, loves me like he means it.
But before my second moon with no blood,
before my whole body, not just my breasts,
felt tender when even my satin slip brushed
against my skin, the cook’s wife went into labor.
For three days the midwives came and left,
like weather. But the baby died.
I walked to their hut at dawn on the first day
before hope’s flame burned down the wick.
Favarone slumbered on in our bed, tossed
by dreams of conquests and concubines.
I brought clean linen, potatoes and leeks
in a basket, a chicken I plucked myself.
The midwives, silent in their purpose,
took what I offered in their arms.
But the baby died.
One of my maids said there was so much blood,
the old midwife resolute, the young one crying
with that tiny blue child in her lap.
By the time my belly swelled and Favarone
stroked my sore breasts and laughed
at the thought of his house full of sons
and daughters, my neighbor’s maid bled to death
in childbirth. I was not laughing.
I was terrified. Even though I had been
a pilgrim in Jerusalem, even though I had knelt
in Rome on cold marble, and kissed the cardinal’s ring.
What did God know about the uterus?
About the extravagant pain when the pelvis
opened, when a small shoulder got stuck,
or the blue cord strangled or blood pooled
in the ocean the baby left behind in the mother.
I bowed down alone in my chamber and prayed
to the Virgin and all the women who squatted
over stone or straw and lived to hold a breathing child.
I felt struck by a bolt as the voice entered and told me
“Woman, do not be afraid, for you will joyfully bring forth
a clear light that will illumine the world.” So be it,
I thought. When I summoned the midwives they came,
with strong arms, working knowledge, their laughter
lighting the room as they joked about weak men,
cry-baby husbands, boys hiding behind
their mamas’ skirts from barking dogs and bullies.
Beyond the window stars glittered in the night sky,
their light cold and far and meaningless as always.
Too beautiful for the light of day
her father locked her in a tower
he built himself, beating back
all the hungry young men
who tried to steal her from him.
Pagan poets and philosophers were sent
to instruct her but she carved
the lonely hours in prayer
having found a priest
to baptize her a Christian.
The soft hills and sky feathered with birds
beyond her prison made her ponder
their First Cause and Creator.
Perhaps it was after she flung the statues
of false gods from the tower windows
that her father’s fury became a raving beast
of rage. He pursued her as so many men
pursue a willful independent woman:
with a sword and a mission.
She was tortured by others but beheaded
by him, her father. That he was struck
by a bolt of lightning and reduced to ash
as she was lifted by angels to heaven
will come as no surprise to some.
We know who we are.
Elegy in an Echo Chamber
She is still alive so far from here.
I can’t see the room, or gentle care
the nurse is taking to close the sheer
curtains when night collapses and stars
take their shiny places in the black air
against the window. The more
I think about a world without her
in it, the more I care
about what every loving moment is for
and how very dear we really are.
Lisa Zimmerman is the author of three poetry chapbooks and three full-length collections of poetry: How the Garden Looks from Here (Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award); The Light at the Edge of Everything (Anhinga Press) and The Hours I Keep (Main Street Rag). Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Redbook, The Sun, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Florida Review, SWWIM Every Day and other journals. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net, five times for the Pushcart Prize, and included in the 2020 Best Small Fictions anthology. She lives in Colorado.