Ann Taylor

 The Oseberg Burial Ship, AD 834 

 

You debate who owned these bones –

which woman the cynosure,

which the acolyte. A queen? Asa?

 

Though crushed, scattered beneath centuries

of stoneweight and earthmound, I know

these two, long sheltered in my ribs.

 

I yielded to carvers’ blades, suffered the sturdy

slam and hammer of builders who bent

and bound my oaken curves together.

 

Bloodied, I heard the oxen protest, shrieks

of horses, trusting whimpers of pet dogs.

I bowed with the weight of women’s luxury.

 

Shaped for the sea, I regret the rocky drag

to earth’s entombment, where robbers pillaged

and now you pick my scattered bones.

 

But recall Jason’s Argo, planked

with Zeus’ prophetic Dodona oak.

Trust the gift of speech.

 

Then will I recall for you the rest

of what once was. My wooden breast

heaves deep to complete my tale.

 

We the Women Inquired After by Villon

 

“Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”

 

Why do you ask about old snow?

Wonder in what country we may be now?

For we are right here! Listen.

Do you know me, lovely Flora,

who blazed with a courtesan’s passion,

relished my Roman Floralia’s abandon,

bloom still in every garden,  blossom, bouquet?

 

And I’m Archipiada. Some think I am

one with Socrates’ Alcibiades,

most handsome from birth to death,

but transformed by time’s shift in spelling

from a male to a perfect female beauty.

 

Do you seek Thais, Alexander’s beloved,

the one who led him and his inebriated army

to torch Persepolis? Yes, I reduced

to yesteryear the Persian king’s noble palace,

reduced his treasures to ash.

 

And, oh, can you hear me? I am Echo.

Because of my loquacity, I was deprived

of speech except in answering.

In answering, I’m here ringing again

and again over river and pond,

ever ready to respond.

 

Frankly, your foolish question bores me,

for I am wise Héloïse, equal in love and learning

to Abelard, my time’s finest scholar,

my own Pierre, who fathered our child,

suffered so much for our passion.

What has snow to do with our burning?

 

Do you seek Queen Marguerite? I, who bagged

my satiated amours, tossed them afterwards

straight from my tower window into the Seine?

You’ve heard of the scholar Buridan

who took his pleasure with me,

but at his tossing was caught and saved

by his students in a hay boat? I admire

such learning, but he was not the last

of my lovers. (Are you otherwise employed?)

 

And I’m the lily Queen Blanche, mother of Louis IX,

Queen regent. Ruling was my passion. You may approach,

must learn my lovesongs sung in siren’s voice,

surviving centuries.

 

Snows melt away. But we tread the chansons.

I, Bertha Broadfoot, mother of Charlemagne,

I, Beatrix, of royal lineage still contested,

and I, Ermengarde of the Arrows,

heiress of Maine, of Chateau de Loire,

spouse of Jerusalem’s king –

all widely-traveled, widely-sung.

 

And you wonder where exactly I may be?

I, the English Joan, leader of men

far less firey, consumed by French flame,

but never erased, enflamed to life

by history’s narrative, the power of poets.

 

Do not repeat your foolish question, your ubi sunt

equation, rendering us as ephemeral as melted snow.

 

The heat of our incendiary passions

turns blizzards to rivulets,

and we  burn still.

(In his poem, Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballade of the Women of Times Past), François Villon (15th century)  repeats the line, Mais où sont les neiges d’antan (translated as, But where are the snows of yesteryear?), comparing these women to the melted snows of times past)

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Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and free-lance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing (Ragged Mountain/McGraw Hill). Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. Her recent collection, Bound Each to Each, was published by Finishing Line Press in  2013.

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