NEVER AGAIN THE BURNING
It is always the morning of my execution……
….I know they will come for me today.
Last night the jailer, pulling up his trousers,
Sneered, “Perhaps you’ll fancy the poll
They give you in the morning more then mine,
Stubborn bitch.” I think
He liked it better when I had strength
And spirit enough to fight him.
He is too stupid to lie just to torment me.
I will welcome death, though the dying scares me…
I was a healer…. how long ago? Oh Gods,
I cannot think straight anymore! And I know
That their gross insults to my body will never mend.
And the pain is constant, and they have sworn me
That I will go to the fire conscious and aware.
My Goddess, I am sick to my very soul with shame;
At the last I gave them screaming what they wanted,
Mouthed any obscenity they asked, told them
What they told me to say. My sanity remains
Only because Your names to with me to the pyre,
And the grave beyond, and only there.
Oh, Beloved, if I could only see you
One last time, that your clean spirit’s fire
Could rid me of this filth and fear….
The crowd gathers now.
I hear them outside, laughing, festive….
Gods grant I will be entertaining enough….
I wonder if those pious souls who in the past
Have asked my help will mourn me?
Well, I shall be glad to quit this stinking cell…
The rats grow bolder as I decline…
Oh, Mother, give me strength!
I hear the guards outside.
“What,” I taunt, “three of you
All for one small half-starved wench?
Indeed, terrible I must be!”
They have the grace to look ashamed,
The youngest one grown pale and horrified
At the light of me; I delivered his wife
Of a fine strong one not many weeks ago.
But now I dare not ask how the child fares.
“Nay, you must carry me or drag me,
My fine bravos….these ruined feet will never
Bear my weight again. I fear I danced too long
With your good priest and his fine Spanish boots.”
They haul me to my feel and the pain….
I will not scream again for their amusement!
I must go naked, then, to my death before these fools?
I would not have them see me so, who danced
Naked for the Goddess, graceful and free,
On winged feet without a trace of shame.
Their avaricious eyes defile me; as their
Twisted priests defiled my body’s temple….
There are many strangers here in the square,
Churchmen and villagers from all the country round….
I am to be a marvelous, far-felt lesson, I see.
They bind me to their stake, too tight, more agony…
The splintering pole claws my raw back,
My shoulders wrenched and cramping, the rough rope
Burning my wrists. My legs will not support me,
And I sag in my bonds, and I fill with terror,
As a pitcher with muddy water. A priest approaches….
Oh, Goddess, must I suffer them even now?
The crowd protests the cup in his hands.
He exhorts them gently; his sect bears mercy towards all,
Malice towards none, and might not even such as I
Be saved at the bitter end?
I don’t know this one. I fight to raise my head,
To spit in his face, for one last shred of defiance….
Mother of All, no! Not you…. here!
How have you come, Beloved,
To trade your green robes for their black,
Your antlered crown for their cross?
Surely I dream, I dream…..
But now I smell your clean scent,
And your dear presence cloaks me in peace.
Rage fires in your eyes, but your pure love
Sustains me, strengthens me and warms me.
You brush the hair back form my face….
The cup you hold gently to my bruised lips I gave you
At our handfasting…. softly you whisper,
“Drink deep of salvation, my dear love,”
And your voice, harsh with unshed tears,
Rips at my soul and my own tears begin, and fully
Do I drink of your deep eyes and the chalice,
And the taste of the flying herbs bursts upon my tongue,
Belladonna, aconite, dark sweet dreams….
They are coming now with the fire.
Almost you linger too long, haunted eyes on mine,
But as sleep steals over me, I see you melt
Safely into the throng.
I am drifting now; I hear my mother singing, far away….
The pain is gone. I am a little girl again…I am safe,
My mother is calling me and I run gladly into her arms….
But in the room I have left behind, someone has been careless
With the supper, Mother, they must turn the spit faster,
For I can smell the roasting meat burning,
And the dinner guests are shouting….
I wake in cold sweat, and cannot drink
From the glass you bring me. Oh, sisters, hear:
Our daughters must not dream these dreams!
We must defend ourselves, stand with out brothers,
And make the arsonists let us be.
Oh, sisters, hear: Never again,
Never again the burning.
Gale Perrigo (1985)