Saint Agnes: A poem by Anne Champion

By Anne Champion

 

Saint Agnes
Patron Saint of girls, rape survivors, gardens, and chastity

The legend lies: my hair didn’t grow to sheathe
my shame. Nothing protects a woman

stripped bare. Red ivy snaked along my body
but it was only illusion: blood and dust. If you want to salve

a man’s lust, present him with a woman ruined,
a lacework of bruises. As the men dragged

me naked through the streets, they forgot
what I looked like, my hair woven into a loom

of twigs as brittle as lies, the heavens translating
screams to prayers—I held the hot rage

in my lungs until it boiled out every contamination
and I was holy. My blessing, witchcraft:

men’s filthy eyes cast white and blind,
others kneeling before me and dropping dead.

When they lit the fire at my feet, my hunger
could never be uncoiled, my body readied

to blaze, the polished flute of my throat primed
to sing God’s praise and men’s curse.

God granted me an escape path in parted flames,
but men thwart miracles with weapons and war.

A blade pierced my neck— I was finally wrung
free from ever crying out in this world again.


Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018) and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, Epiphany Magazine, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere.  She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient. She currently teaches writing and literature in Boston, MA.  http://anne-champion.com

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