The Devout Childhood of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
BY FIONA STANTON
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, bewitching. *** 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.
BY FIONA STANTON
I 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. II 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. III 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. IV 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. V 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— VI I walk away from the campsite into darkness. I am pregnant with cold, I am waiting wanting for the Big Lost River to find me.
BY FIONA STANTON
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.