Lisa Zimmerman

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. 


Saint Barbara

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

          for I.K.

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.