Anchoress: Two poems

Those birds fly well which have little flesh

Although it is not in the rules,
she tests herself, leaving the bread
and cheese untouched until her maid
takes it away; and the more she hungers
the more she has to test herself.

She is not allowed to beat herself,
to flail herself with nettles
or hedgehog skins. The abbot forbids it.

She is not allowed to cut herself,
but she can force herself to lie
on stones until the imprint on her body
is like a nail in her side.

She can force herself to sit, undressed
under the window on winter’s nights
until her bones groan with cold.

If she doesn’t eat, her body will remain
pure and empty to receive the sacrament.

The wafer is like honesty, a paper moon,
and she is a fledgeling stretching up its beak
to take the gift, turning the web of her blood to silver,
her flesh thin as air.


Come to me my beloved, my bright bride

At first she seems to be drowning:
her self diffusing out and down
into unsearchable deepness

as if a sound, scintillas of high notes,
like a robin’s song crushed into particles,
is dissolving

like coloured motes
of a church wall-painting
drifting on the choir’s breath.

Then she feels she is melting:
liquefied, streaming golden as honey,
the fire outside and in her

the heat unbearable yet welcome,
white as an orchard at Easter,
the unspeakable longing

packed in surprising sweetness
like her cold finger
testing jam at boiling point.

At last she knows
the melting is red
blood like her own

but a dearer, sacred blood:

her senses are birds
nesting in his five wounds.

Site of peace, City of Zion,
her eyes become doves
meekly to approach him.

When she herself is the city,
she is filled with music
which is the food of Heaven.

Now she is a garden of scents.
She is a flower opening
in her bridegroom’s heart.