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,
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)
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.