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Mary Stuart

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In my end is my beginning

prologue

With a sharp comb dipped in ink I’ve tattooed my life story all over my body. I’ve tattooed the footprints of my children — this way 
I carry their walking with me; the footprints of my twins who died before their feet touched the ground. And the footprints of my one-year-old son, James, whom I pray for daily.
 
 
i: dent-de-lion

Because I bore the lion of my father’s country
my Maries and I picked dandelions —
    lion’s teeth.
All our childhood we picked them —

blowball, cankerwort,
doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan,
monk’s head, priest’s crown, worm rose

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots


I held their gold beneath my chin;
imagined the lion rampant — its tongue,
its claws on my skin.

When I find the tallest stalk
I know how much I’ll grow.

I weave their sun bells
into my wedding bouquet. When I blow

seeds from the puffball
and three remain —
three children will I bear.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

 
 
ii: the caulbearer

When he was born
a shimmer of womb-skin
stretched across his face —
     I knew then
he would always be
with me.

I carried the caul
through all my years in captivity.
I imagined the membrane
attached to his plump baby face
like a coral headdress;

    I spoke to it,
willed it to carry my letters,
my messages into the drowning
depths of his night sleeping head.
 
 
iii: daffadowndilly

Despite the westerly gales,
despite the persistence of snowfall
the daffodils are opening.

They are opening
the way tapestries, labored at
one stitch at a time, suddenly arrive
at something whole.

Mary is stitching her name
over and over, pulling
the threads through
her long fingers.

For nineteen years
her name has been a plaything.
The ends of her fingers weave
puns and anagrams.

She is a woman
of many names —
she has woven a self
to match each name —

Tu te Marieras
Veritas Armata
Sa Vertue M’attire
Tu as Martyre

And the daffodils, they too
have many names —
Daffadowndilly, Narcissus,
Lenten lily, Easter bell.

How they weave themselves
out of the grass, out
of the green shoots
and sheathed leaves;
heads hung, necks
waiting to be snapped.
 
 
iv: the mermaid and the hare

Though all my life
I’ve worn dresses of mohair,
damask, or serge, stiffened in the neck
    with buckram;

though I wear breeding layers
of petticoats, farthingales
expanded with hoops of whalebone;

they’ve removed my heart-shaped cap,
my mourning veil, stripped
me bare to the waist,

replaced my silver hose-covered legs
with the wet mucus of a fish tail.

Two husbands dead —
they visit me nightly.
In dreams my hands turn into gudgeons,

chubs, loaches; the white magic
of a hare biting at my heels.
 
 
v: snowdrops

When they are ready
they send for her.
There are so many of them —
men who must watch her die.

The snowdrops outside her window
change color in the sunrise.

She is tired. She has lain awake all night.
She is dressed in black
with a long white veil — a caul
to keep her son close to her.

She counts the pearl acorn buttons
on her satin dress;
she counts the double string of rosary
hanging from her waist.

Her God is ready for her;
his body hangs above her
and she carries his cross
into the great hall.

Pearl queen —
she imagines the hall is filled with pearls
and the pearls are snowdrops.
Into the sheer purity of it she will fall.

She is going into the arms
of her mother.

In blood she came, in blood she will go —
stripped to red petticoat,
red bodice, red sleeves.

She feels herself glowing
in the center of the hall —
sister to the fireplace;
curls burning around her pale face,
her auburn eyes.

Hunkering for final prayer
she commits herself, kneels to the block;
hot fur, breath, the pounding
heart of her lapdog
pressing against her leg.

She gasps as the phoenix in her chest
breaks apart her body
with two blows —

one from each wing
as it rose.
 
 
vi: red and white

Though it was the color of mourning,
for my wedding I wanted to wear white —

The color of fresh snow and milk
The color of Isis and for wrapping the dead
The color cloaking the early monks
The color of the sacrificial lamb
The color of the transfiguration of our Lord
The color of the unicorn

My colors are red and white —
a white veil flows from my pale face
and tight red curls.
When I walk in the garden I scatter sunlight.

I am titanium white
I am Sirius
I am an Arctic fox
My heart is ermine

I am a white horse ridden by Conquest;
you will remember my name.
Source: Poetry (June 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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