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Gretchen Meixner

Notes on the Death of Henry VIII

He fell so heavily

Our hearts can barely hold

His holy mass, the divinity

Of his mighty flesh.

How does a man cease

When once he commanded

An army and all its wives?

How to silence a mouth

When once it bade our piety,

And the rising of our arms

Such inhumane tragedy!

Pustules leaking, staining

A glorious bed that birthed

Princesses and their brother.

Sour knob of flesh that

Tormented, and influenced

A trusting king to sew

Bright yarns of suspicion,

Threaded cloths of envy.

Pain, such agony to

View an empty crown

Stuck with bristles of hair,

Lightly touching the head

Unable to wrap around

And protect the brain,

How could he hope to

Resist the thrall of courtiers?

Scurrying around his mane,

Sticking needles in his bone.

A defender of faith and

The sanctity of marriage,

So much that he persevered

With those less inclined,

To marry again and again

Four times more with

Almost wives in between

To practice his fidelity on.

Glorious, gone to soon,

Despairing children continue

His massive dynasty,

How shall they know

Their own unstoppable value

Without his paternal instruction?

How shall daughters marry

Without the perfect image of

Body, soul, and enduring faith

To measure their betrothed?

A man of peace,

Painting pictures of war.

His enemies sought to

Bring him into battle

He responded so that

His children would have suitors,

And soldiers could die of

Glorious, gaping wounds

Rather than the merciless sweat.

No one alive shall regret

His rule, the corpulent kingdom.

Tower walls sigh happily

At their constant occupation

All men have employment

Whether it be sorting through

Adorned crosses and icons

Or plucking jewels off hands.

Someone must be paid to

Secure the woman in velvet

Separate her little neck from

Her wispy, gold-stained head.

Remorse is impossible!

Like forgetting the sun.

Sisters grew up humble

Unpolluted by tenderness,

All the better to obey

Their wet, wise prince,

Kept firmly hidden

In the house of glass.

All love runs dry,

By sword or by silence

And all progeny must learn

To deny their inheritance,

All crosses and oaths broken,

All devourers, eventually devoured.

Anne, Elizabeth

Wild to hold,

Easy to cut loose.

This, I learned from you.

To speak passion without provocation,

To form hungry enemies,

These things I must avoid.

Untouched means undigested,

I will not be devoured.

 

You do seem tame,

The mother replies.

And had I not your blood

Drying up in my veins

I would trust your stoic wrath.

But God-sent or God’s divined,

You still come from me,

The shrew, the whore, the

Apple-cheeked lie.

Your fire rages underneath

Your scalp, covered by a

Mane of false ruby.

 

How do we inherit pain?

I tried to spare you,

I tried to die with the

Dignity my crown denied.

But you still carried the blade,

Restlessly on a narrow shoulder.

Ugly men touched you,

Wept their ails upon you

Then lost their wooden heads.

 

How painful is death?

Worse for your heart than mine,

I had but one, daughter to lose

And you had four mothers,

Perhaps your father hurts

More than we could imagine

For the cost of each bride.

 

The daughter frowns at

Her mother’s sad dryness.

How can I love? She asks.

How dare I embellish

One mysterious soul to

Make him my own match?

God’s ordained and untouchable,

I come with a heavy price

No courtier can willingly pay.

What am I but dust,

A contradiction made of gold?

 

Legal, than subdued

Beloved, then reviled.

What fates could have waited

Were they not extinguished

By the aches of kings?

Happier in poverty than

In power, I do not seek

To question my own breath.

We are what we are,

You bones and I bread.

 

A mother wants her daughter

To be a daughter, and not

Only the bride of an island.

My dear, my darling one,

She speaks, how can I

Have lost you so completely?

It is not veins and lungs

That separate our souls

But the decay of decades.

I grew up proud, you ashamed.

The difference has made us

Sad strangers. I am not angry

For your disloyalty, who would

Claim a witch as a sovereign

Much less a mother?

You have been brought up to

Love the wives of your king

Then weep quietly when they die.

Law dictates your fealty

To the man that kills them.

Where would I fit in this story

But underneath the brick,

With all the forgotten?

 

I know their secrets, my love

I know how we all came to be.

A different turn, another line,

We would all be anonymous.

Portraits of unknown women

Holding hands, unknown author.

Look at our simple, tranquil faces.

 

The daughter feels an affront

To her status, to all the rules

She has broken and remade.

Mother, she commands,

Stop repainting our fates.

You want me to be a wife

Not a queen, not a gem.

Where then would our

Fellows and conspirators be?

I know, they condemned you,

But we still must pave their way

To Heaven. Our keepers

But also our flock. How could I

Have abandoned them to the bloody?
It is me, not my sculpture, not my

Skin and eyes, but my own self.,

That they call Gloriana.

 

And that is your own self as well

So no more nostalgia, no more

Desire for unknown timelines.

You died for me to breathe.

I have your picture, kept sacred

In my ring to remind me

How easy it still is to fall.

You are not dust as long as

I reach out my hands and

Purge all the depraved,

Empty hearts of our realm.

 

Our, I say, with conviction,

For we never stop colliding.

I carry you through an armada,

A host of swords and swears,

I bury you, I harbor you,

We speak with one painted mouth.

Whiten my face to make it not

Just mine but a blank template

For you to invade, and blur

The distinction between us.

No endearments left for men,

My heart is too full of memory.

______________________________________________________________

Gretchen Meixner has lived in Providence, RI since 2008. She has a degree in English Literature, but also took as many History classes as possible. She is most interested in World War I and II, as well as the English monarchy. Many of her poems are about these topics and specific historical figures. She has a long commute to work in Boston, which fortunately gives her plenty of time to read.

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