Back to Issue Twenty-Nine.

The Devout Childhood of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Recipient of the 2019 Adroit Prize for Poetry, selected by Franny Choi


After the painting by Charles Allston Collins, 1851
The Hunting Accident was this: my mother bled herself silly, 
	found herself torn & in halves. The men tell me she was Forgiven

but I banish the thought, lay out slivers 
        of citron fruits. Piecemeal. The serving women seek

to heal me—pagan figures in flay-me gowns. Charity
	in the way they lead me through the hallway, seek out my hand

at night in the dark of my room. Something scabs over. 
	I feel gamey & hot beneath my woven bed linens

to the point that I weep,        loose myself on the serving 
	women, bite down hard on my palm so it makes 

mothers of them all. 

First, I’ll have her fall to her knees,
become flush against the wood—
catatonic in her devotion,

In times of penance, I drink
almond milk & eat roe.         Bleeding,  
I am unrelenting in my obedience. 

Bavarian woods strangle the sky outside
my rooms         I let my confessor lay large-fisted 
wounds across my back      let him 

deliver an imperfect release to my imperfect      
Jealousies & Tempers—

You do not suffer Martyrdom, I say, You 
have only laid another starving thing at my muddy 
feet. You have         Filled up all my griefs 

with a bloodied grace. And, my confessor, I have sent 
my children away for you, have forgotten 
my way home for you          have made 
a celibacy of myself—    imperfect. Bitter.

Piety. I want her in
chartreuse and gold, I want her
cold 	to the touch—

On the seventeenth 
        of November, I laid 
                in the bushes and ate bitter 

                oranges whole, rubbed a citron peel across 
        the raw of my mouth and bled 
from a great gash in my palm	
leftover from a childhood waking dream. 

		He is dead	he is 
			  Dead     today it is to me as 
                                        it is as if the 

                it is to me as if the whole
	Dead        whole, World has the

the whole World has 
                               died today. 

She will be a child and know
nothing of widowhood, I will 
have her unsullied or 
        not at all. 

Led away—far from the rooms of my girlhood—I walk beyond 
castle grounds. The serving women dress in sallow, the stolen bread 
is warm against my stomach.

What do you carry, Elizabeth,
Open your mantle	
                       I will Open it for you. 

The Landgrave pulls up the Mourning Drab of my cloak, 
A Miracle, we decide, An Opening

of Roses—bright as devils, unveiled & scalped,     red as animal eyes. 

Bless Me, you resisting thing,
	Open your mantle, I will
Open it for you— 

but I am Imminent. I reveal his love by way of a monstrous Pity, 
I send a leper to our marriage bed & I make 

exiles of our children. Far from the ruins of my girlhood I am led away

I will open
    	I will Open it for you

into restlessness, a servant shadow of myself, a priestess ingénue 
Bloodlet as ghost     Noseless & Beheld    blighted youth: 

I will be twenty-four and holy as vigil light,
        I will do it all to break my selfless heart. 

Red Lions



Hotel light—wavering, hulking blue & irradiated:
I am six years old         all I have is milk teeth. 	Baby’s 
belly	pink swimsuit     Latin lanugo. 

To me, night smells like Egyptian flowers blooming
in the dark. It’s my mother’s hair & jade &
Bergamot incense coming from under the door frame.

There’s a motel sign I can see from my window, 
it glows heavy at blue-dark, it’s washed out and faded
at daybreak. I’m always dreaming of witches, 

because I don’t know how else to dream. The sound
of car wheels keeps me awake.	I play traveling circus
in the front yard & pretend I am in love with leaving. 


Now, let me be 15 miles North of Las Vegas, NV. 
Or else,         deep in the Pioneer Mountains,
or on the British Columbian Highway, or
in the woods outside my mother’s 
maiden house, sap on the soles of my feet. 

Because I am in this skin—and in and in, I dream
they dragged the lake & found nothing, I dream
like a brother dreams:
                                Imperfect,     by your side & not.


Did you hear that, wooded thing? 

We’re berry-picking. 
And once we’re done, 
we’ll thrust our hands into the pies
          (dark & lambish)
we’ll go through gambling country clean as dogs.

We want to live 
leeward—     twin, lauded things,
vast as ghosts. 


Let it be Llullaillaco. 
Let us be half sisters. 
Let us wrap our hair before night comes. 
Let us live in the Mountains, the highest place.
Let us be prayed to: girl harvests. 
Let us stand in for a sleeping god’s praise. 
Let us be named by men many times our children. 
Let us tell the story of maize beer & coca leaves on the flesh. 
Let us face, together, the rising of Southwestern Sun.
Let us pretend to Watch-Over—us as makeshift gods. 
Let us sit in Vigil like birds in Perch.
Let us call you salvation. 


Upend     me.  Find me in the fields. 
And the lost river, lost
highway—it Beats in me, heaving, 	empty & wide. 
The green space where fish go: a story I tell
when I’m asleep.

So the half-life shows itself? Tell me again 
how the Minidoka Dam shorns the way, is husked 

	then, flayed: Miracle, 
				         how the second act never comes, 
        how the river flows where we can’t see it.  

The highway’s all breaking me up, I’d like 
	I’d love to call my mother & I thought (I’m 
		thinking) of jersey devils, of mothmen—

Springsteen’s always on the radio. There’s songs all swimming
in my blood—beat after beat so
so now I’m counting (let me see over the wheel, 
now—honey please, please honey)
I’m counting I see     I can’t see 
anymore the way toward 
       the way to where 
                Toward 	    where I’m going—


I walk away from the campsite into darkness. I am pregnant
with cold, I am waiting 
                                                for the Big Lost River 
        to find me. 



Grave Goods


        Buried in the open water, I sink. 

Wild grapes. Elderberry. Pear fruit. You’ll find
        a cherry pit under my tongue, my stomach 
will reek of fennel bulbs and hyssop.

Ritual bore me a child of mud, orchid and root: 
        we bathe like we are lauded, until 
our lungs collapse & the rope singed 

        into our necks melts all away. But spirits 

are blocked by water, and the animal
        small-bones and shells release them, 
and in the end there is always a Valley & Still 

        Water to run over that edge.

So I decorate my hair and call 
        it a holy thing, I make prayer out of bog 
fly & peat & moss—

        Swell, the story goes, and I believe it. 

Kronborg glitters in the distance. I see men 
        like ghosts on the turrets, they blink
in and out of being     slowly. Obsessively. 

        I catch myself reaching out

I catch myself reaching & I Catch 
Myself    Out    and I catch myself—

        so the water comes up to meet me. 

Fiona Stanton is a recent graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy’s creative writing program, where she studied both poetry and prose. Her writing has appeared in The Red WheelbarrowValley Visions, and the Henry’s Fork Journal. She was also a finalist for the Lake Effect National High School Poetry Contest, and received a National Gold Medal and an American Voices Medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She will attend Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina this fall.


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