Winter 2021 - Poetry

POETRY

Winter 2021

 

 

E. B. Schnepp

it’s christmas in anne boleyn’s throat

 

I.

and its halls are decked with mistletoe,

though she has no lips left to kiss

her lover. he has already gifted her final garnets

and left—she would take him back again,

if he asked. it’s christmas in anne boleyn’s throat

and her daughter comes to curl there, to sleep candied

violet warm. when she wakes it’ll still be christmas

in anne boleyn’s throat and anne will be considering,

over her stitches and hot chocolate, taking up the witchcraft

and treason she was accused of; she may as well. it’s christmas

in anne boleyn’s throat and she would sing, but she’s voiceless

now; headlessness has its drawbacks even though

it’s christmas in anne boleyn’s throat and her body’s

a miracle that moves even after severance.

 

II.

a miracle that moves even after severance,

anne boleyn went tower walking, husband-haunting,

and still found time to tuck her daughter into bed.

it started with the blade, with her eyes still moving

in their sockets. it’s said she rolled her eyes at the crown,

at the executioner, at her husband, at the drove of hares

streaming through the streets, overwhelming crowds

and uncatchable in their slick-soaked coats. it’s said,

with her head dangling from a closed fist, her lips moved;

she tried to speak, to call her husband’s name, or

her daughter’s, or to cast a spell and maybe she did

but no one could make out the words so it didn’t stick,

or it did and we just didn’t notice. either way,

this is how you know she’s a witch.

 

III.

this is how you know she’s a witch,

they buried her head separately to keep her from walking, but

her sixth finger was a homing beacon, sensed the sun

and she dug her way free. rising three days later, a woman

can’t be a god, can only be a witch, a saint

posthumously and anne boleyn isn’t dead anymore. she crawled

through all the men who died for the chance to be buried

beside her, their blood would’ve tarnished her crown,

she was glad she left it behind with the hung

jury. left the jury to the grave; in the end they’re useless,

kingsmen, soft-handed, in the end they’re flesh and returned

to soil and she carved herself free alone. that’s how you know

she’s a witch, her lips smiling apart from her body;

a witch doesn’t need a head.

 

IV.

a witch doesn’t need a head,

but some nights even a princess needs her mother.

elizabeth is one of the happy haunted, like a witch

a mother doesn’t need a head, just a lap

or better, a hollow nest for a throat just large enough

for a small girl to burrow inside. she can’t remember a mother

with a smile or eyes, her mother crawls out from closets

and under the bed. no one else sees her mother

until they do, until they call her daughter bastard,

until they need to be punished and elizabeth believes

every mother-song is the wind whistling around an open wound

above her—it was a clean cut, the final kindness

of a king and a husband and a sword and

charges reading treason. reading lust. reading off with her head.

 

V.

the charges read treason. read lust. read off with her head.

and king henry started the hottest thing in queens,

headlessness. he took to bobbing all his wives

like docking dogs’ tails, he was told it was painless,

in their best interest, simply a mark of the breed,

but anne boleyn was the only one who came back,

who haunted him. he found himself falling for her again;

if he stood her by the fire she’d feel warm to the touch

and her mouth he could do without. he regretted marrying her;

he could have saved himself the rebellion, the paperwork,

simply forced her to be his mistress instead—

you have all the qualities of the whore, none of the queen he told anne,

she didn’t say anything and he was pleased. happiest on mornings

he woke to find her blood staining his sheets.

 

VI.

he woke to find her blood staining his sheets—

it was a bad idea to remind her he was still the marrying kind,

she was quick to poltergeist; his crowns went missing, catherine

parr found her standing at the foot of the bed, the wheezing

from anne’s windpipe coming in chokes and sobs, she stole coin

and lost it all against anne of cleves at the tables. henry was uncomfortable

watching his annes play flirt in the antechambers, sliding close

only to slide away when they caught him looking. anne boleyn stopped

obeying the crook of his finger, his whispers to come to his rooms,

his orders in full view of the court; a queen deposed has no master

and he’d made anne queen of herself. Crowned headless, her head

in an arrow case, an uncommon coronation, the first of her miracles;

the motto on all her heraldry reversing overnight from the most happy to

though they may grumble it is what it is.

 

VII.

though they may grumble it is what it is—

henry was drowning in advisors and wives and voices

ringing in his ears building a new suite of rooms in his walls

hiding from the voices and the courtiers and the wives but

the wives were all gone, now, all dead but a sister, all dead but

a reluctant new bride, all dead but they could follow

headless and headless and heartless where he went to hide from them

and anne, still standing at the threshold, didn’t appreciate him

saying he’d have loved her if only she knew how to carry a son

but he couldn’t love the mother of a daughter and stillness

and empty wombs and it couldn’t be his fault, he was the father

of a kingdom he could sire sons it was her and jane

and anne and katherine and catherine and catherine and

all of them filled the doorway and followed her in.

 

VIII.

all of them filled the doorway and followed her in

to her grave each night (mea culpa) digging (mea maxima

culpa) through yard muck for where anne boleyn keeps her head.

it was all innocent (mea culpa) if foolish (mea culpa)

I was there too, with them, waiting to peel back her eyelids

(mea maxima culpa) watching for her eyes to move; together

we stole locks of hair, pulled out teeth (mea culpa) to take

as souvenirs, as witchbane, as relics of a protestant saint,

as proof (mea maxima culpa) that we did it and her lips

didn’t move and she never spoke and we walked away, that we did it

and we weren’t cursed. (mea culpa) as I go to sleep, anne

boleyn’s molar tucked under my pillow, I’ll tell myself I did it all

out of love for the curiously headless. no desecration intended

(mea culpa) (mea culpa) (mea maxima culpa).

 

IX.

mea culpa. mea culpa. mea maxima culpa.

for a while I couldn’t remember how to love you—

there were just so many versions of you

and all of you were tragic; but I can love you

for your sons. you had sons and they were so small

and so still they were never christened, but I’m sure

you gave them a name, even if they shared one.

I couldn’t love you for your daughter,

she was so large and loud; I can’t seem to love that

the same way I love the still, the son you birthed still

only to be told he was breathless, he could never be king,

they were better off planting him. and your daughter,

you could keep her if you must, but

she couldn’t be king either.

 

X.

she couldn’t be king either,

but in the end I don’t know

if she wanted to be. I can’t see her, anne boleyn,

past smoke and burnt letters, through layers

of attributions, mis-attributions, and rotten

varnish—like how we speak about poetry,

I don’t know if I’m good enough

a reader for you. you were the queen

of nouns. whore. saint. witch. mother. false

wife. false prophet. first to the sword

and they deified you and didn’t.

and forgot you, but couldn’t and

your shadow stretched tall and

black-eyed, mona lisa-smiled. you lingered.

 

XI.

black-eyed, mona lisa-smiled; you lingered,

but if I try hard enough I can step behind the gilt

gold frames of this and every other reproduction

of a reproduction of a painting of you. blink once,

then twice as my eyes slide into place where you were

(does this make me the witch?) the world is tinsel

and horrible and I cannot breathe for corsets, for smoke

and rushes, yet everyone drips diamonds like water,

diamonds like they don’t notice. and I suppose they wouldn’t,

but it’s practiced, how everyone pretends to not see the king

move by, drag the tips of his fingers over the curve

of our shared waist, whisper his invitation, until I am a tudor

rose blush, scarlet staining pale, everyone has to see;

anne boleyn smiles with all of her teeth.

 

XII.

anne boleyn smiles with all of her teeth.

anne boleyn invented the broomstick

flight. anne boleyn was lillith in disguise.

anne boleyn was the first vampire,

anne boleyn isn’t anne boleyn, that portrait

is jane seymour, is katherine, is catherine,

is catherine, is elizabeth with her hair covered,

is another woman entirely, anonymous.

anne boleyn could time travel. anne boleyn

died in france and was replaced by some other.

henry loved anne boleyn still, he didn’t execute her,

he couldn’t, so he replaced her with some other witch,

also named anne. anne boleyn died, ascended a saint.

anne boleyn is the only woman who can never die.

 

XIII.

anne boleyn is the only woman who can never die;

I made sure of it, fulfilled the promise of witchcraft

with six bumblebees and rue like salt you add to taste

with the peach flesh to save against rot. or

I venerated her, said enough prayers to mother

mary and god, her son painted in all the churches

to look the way anne’s son could have—had he breathed.

some days this little god-man mistakes anne for his own

mother and to rectify the mistake he thanks her

or her english bibles, her psalms translated into french

and keeps her in heaven as a queen and accidental saint.

or I wasn’t strong enough to raise her, catholic enough

to pray her way to heaven, and when her face began to melt

I gave her my own in its place.

 

XIV.

I gave her my own in its place—

my head—and left my name on the scaffold

in this year of our lord a calais swordsman is hard to find,

but he took to the work and now my head becomes anne boleyn’s

body. we decorated our shared interiors, she named me

her daughter’s godmother and elizabeth calls us both mother.

we all live together like this; anne and elizabeth and I.

and henry still tries to come in, but he’s grown fat

and tired and can’t seem to find his way; anne tells me

this is a blessing, says he was never good in bed

anyway. we fill our home with books and musicians and no roses

no needless lovers—every day it’s christmas in our throat

and our halls are decked with mistletoe.

 

XV.

our halls are decked with mistletoe,

a miracle that moves even after severance—

this is how you know she’s a witch,

a witch doesn’t need a head.

after charges read treason, read lust, read off with her head

henry woke to find her blood staining his sheets;

though he may grumble it is what it is,

all of his wives filling the doorways, following her in.

(mea culpa. mea culpa. mea maxima culpa.)

she couldn’t be king either,

but black-eyed, mona lisa smiled, she lingered;

anne boleyn smiles with all of her teeth.

anne boleyn is the only woman who can never die;

I ensured it, gave her my head in hers’ place.

 


E.B. Schnepp is a poet from rural mid-Michigan who currently resides in Indiana. Her work can also be found in The Laurel Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Longleaf Review, among others.


 

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.