Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Martyrdom of Friend James by Catherine Bateson

Arrested in Colchester, 1656
confined to a rat's hole in the wall
a rope between him
and the ground.

One day numbed with cold,
he slipped.
They pushed him
bleeding and broken,
into another hole, the size of a baker's oven
and this time he rose,
oh he rose like sweet bread
like blessed, obstinate bread.
They could not stop him
though they buried his warped bones
barely twenty years old
curled like an unborn baby.

Did you fly into death singing, boy,
the cramped, stinking months shucked off
as though they had belonged to another?
Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

Tell me, how I can take off my anger
abandon it like an ill-fitting boot.
How I can open my fists, lay them naked
palms up, waiting for the blow, the nail.
And these tears -
will I ever learn to thirst for salt?

This poem comes from a sequence of poems which form a fictional seventeenth century dialogue between a husband and wife. The husband has converted to the Religious Society of Friends but his wife resists. The sequence chronicles their relationship to god and to each other. This poem, written in John's voice, is a documented historical event.

Catherine Bateson, Marriage for Beginners, John Leonard Press, 2009.

Next week I'll be resuming transmission with some fine examples of contemporary Australian poets! I posted this today, however, as a response to VesperSparrow's poem, 'Mad Maud at the River'. Well, not a response, exactly - rather, her poem made me think of this sequence and the sheer pleasure I'd had in writing about a different time and how the plainsong but mystic language of the early Friends had been an inspiration.


Mary McCallum said...

A whole world in there, Catherine. So much to think about. I especially love the ending. Thank you for this and to hear its posting was inspired by VSN's work.

Cattyrox said...

Thanks, Mary.

Kathleen Jones said...

This is very powerful Catherine. I'm interested in biographical poetry, particularly when it's historical. This is also a period that fascinates me, having written a biography of a woman writer caught up in the Civil War - Margaret CAvendish, who came from Colchester and whose property was destroyed. She became a refugee on the continent. You've invoked the atmosphere of that time perfectly. I'd love to see the whole sequence.

Vespersparrow said...

Dear Cattyrox, Such a fascinating call and response to your poetry sequence. I hope we will get to see it all over time--fascinating stuff. Thank you.

Cattyrox said...

Thanks Kathleen - if you want to send me your snail mail addy, I'll send you a copy of the book. Ditto Vespersparrow. Thanks for your comments!