I Forgive… | Madelaine Smith

They would have me write – they wish for my words –
though they could have heard me in the court,
could have listened then to hear what I had to say.

Now they give me the chance,
now when the words I write will be my last.

Gentlemen, Friends and Neighbours,
It may be expected that I should say
something at my Death…

I have lived a long and good life
through turbulent times
and now I reach my turbulent end.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

How did I come to this?
My life has been small, I kept to my hearth,
though my husband played a larger part
than I would have liked on the stage of our times…
and paid the price.

I did as little expect to come to this Place
on this occasion, as any person in this Nation.

I concerned myself as a good wife should
with household matters –
the sunshine of domestic life –
the children, the land, the servants.
Chatelaine from an early age
I kept to my sphere, helped the poor,
tended the sick, welcomed in those in need.

My crime?       My crime was,
entertaining a man of God
who, I am since told,
has sworn to have been in the
Duke of Monmouth’s army…
an invader,      a rebel,                        a traitor.

Would not I, a good housekeeper,
a fair and generous lady of the manor,
mistress of my own demesne,
would not I welcome in one of God’s servants?

I welcomed in a man of God –
yet stand convicted of harbouring a traitor.

The jury, good men all,
found I had not committed a crime.

The judge – who sends me to my death –
would not accept innocence as a verdict.

My words were not heard.
He would not listen.
I felt surprise and fear.

Once, twice, three times
he demanded of the jury their decision.

On his third asking the jury,
eyes down, announced me guilty.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

The judge, eyes on mine,
announced I was to die…

at the stake…
to burn… like a witch.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

King James, the second of that name,
has saved me from the flames.
Instead I am to die
by an executioner’s axe.

He has given me the death
my husband did in some part
impose upon the King’s own father.

I acknowledge his Majesty’s Favour
in revoking my Sentence.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me.

The dawn is coming; my time is nearly up.
I must put aside my pen to pray one last time…

Pray for my soul…

Pray for a swift end.

I forgive all persons that have wrong’d me;
and I desire that God will do so likewise.

 

A found and enhanced poem based on the last speech of Madam Alicia Lisle,
beheaded in the market square, Winchester, September 1685.

http://powys.org/Murder/AliceSpeech.html


Writer’s Commentary

In the Square in Winchester there is a plaque highlighting the spot where Lady Alice Lisle was executed for harbouring fugitives during the Civil War. She was 72 years old. For Heritage Open Days in 2018 the local Loose Muse group of poets put on a reading entitled ‘Extraordinary Women’ in a church just a few hundred yards from the execution spot. Lady Alice needed her voice heard. The line ‘the sunshine of domestic life’ is a reference to Sunshine of Domestic Life: Or, Sketches of Womanly Virtues, and Stories of the Lives of Noble Women by William Henry Davenport Adams


  Madelaine lives in Winchester. At the age of four when asked if she wanted to be a hairdresser or a nurse when she grew up Madelaine answered that she would rather be a poet. Having now grown up she thinks she ought to get on with it. Madelaine has worked in bookselling, publishing, theatre, museums, and was editor of New Writer magazine for five issues.

Madelaine has had work published on Ink, Sweat & Tears, Paper Swans (online and in print anthologies), Perverse Poems, and as a part of the Silent Voices project (silentvoicespoetry.wordpress.com/) in South Magazine, Reach, and Panning for Poems, as well as in local anthologies and exhibitions.

 Madelaine has three unpublished novels in a drawer. She can be found on Twitter @MadelaineCSmith and Instagram instagram.com/madelainecsmith/ 

Count Your Breaths | Chris Wright

Fine dreams of sweets and the soft lilt of her fading lullaby are torn at the fabric; broken by a terrible wail, like a bird calling out a predator until I have no choice but to rise and gasp and plunge through the surface of a stormy sea. When the distressed caw doesn’t become another and the sound stretches into the distance I know what is coming.

The patter of quick feet, the swoop of the bedroom door, Grandmother’s warm hand resting on mine, just for a second, in a moment of pure peace.

We take off down the stairs, out into the biting November cold, towards the shelter at the end of the street.

“Count your paces,” she shouts and we try to beat our score from the night before and, despite knowing that another fleet of German bombers sweep in from the South East, I am safe as long as she’s at my back, tracing the steps of my small feet with her own.

The dust that clings to the city weighs her breaths and slows her steps, gifting me more time lingering in dreams. Slower and slower it takes until full minutes pass for her to shuffle to my room, calling out my name in increasingly strained tones, chased by rack and cough.

I guide her down the stairs and through the front door, the pinching air stealing her stride. I pull and tug with all my little muscles can muster. “Count your breaths”, I shout like she is in control.

She falls by the side of the road, slumping down the neighbour’s wall, looking up at me with a rueful smile. I count to three and count no more.


Chris Wright is from Northern Ireland. His work has featured in several publications such as The Bangor Literary Journal, The Belfast Telegraph, Panic Dots, Broadsheet.ie and Unsigned. Chris is a Politics Graduate from Queens University, Belfast and is currently working on his second novel.

You can find him on Twitter at @_ChrisWrites

It Was Coltrane’s First Soprano Sax | John Grey

he imagined himself playing it maybe
in that underground railroad of a wind
blowing up South Michigan avenue

just had to have himself a piece
of what was already there
mapped out by his fingers
coded in his lips

couldn’t bust it open at first
sure the tunes came
but like doorbells ringing
when nobody’s home

wanted that tone in the upper register
that could outlast lungs
by ten dozen notes
wanted that sweetness
where air illuminates metal
buffs its shine
loops over and through
like a breathless knot

had to have it

got it


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and Roanoke Review.

Catch 22, Part 2 | Michael Prihoda

i am accused,

the distance

immaterial.

North Africa

is not Los Angeles.

it is certainly not

Vancouver.

you seem

to write history

for the rest

of us.

but

you can’t

fuck

with my

geography.


Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).

He is on Twitter at @michaelprihoda

Catch-22, Part 1 | Michael Prihoda

Contains violent imagery and references to torture

“you’ll let
me go

if i give
you the name

of a Middle-Eastern
man

i once knew?” even
if he drowned

in the Black
sea?

you bring
the bucket back.

“if you’re not
a terrorist,

surely you
know a terrorist.”

it becomes
hard to breathe.

i am back
in the womb.

more than water
makes this unspeakable.

“if you’re not
a terrorist,

surely you’ll
give up terrorists.

save yourself.
why won’t you save yourself?”

don’t you see?
every breath

of water
brings heaven closer?


Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).

He is on Twitter at @michaelprihoda

The Great Courtesan of Henrietta Street | Olivia Marsh

1755

Everything in London is filling it to bursting and the men never more so; in their multitudes, men are as common as the wet, muddied ballad papers that cling to the pavements. They strewn, like the chair and carriage traffic that clutters its way to the epicentre. O, glorious epicentre, where all the world’s best and worst scramble for coin, for lust, for love, for life, for death, for success, for posterity. Choices for the taking.

But in all that choice, she desires only him. Second-rate version of an heir that he may be. A third son? A fifth? She does not remember. She only remembers that he has loved her, or has professed it in so many words. He has whispered on a morning: “My angel, take yourself off and buy a dress, a gown a la Turque, and later, I will kiss you and kiss you until you are quite dizzy.” Everything beautiful she sets her fingers on was paid for by him. Bottomless fortune, indeed. There ain’t no such things. Not for third sons on a cadet branch. And yet…

And yet, there is a pimp far back in her memory who thrusts up her chin and says “Pretty pet, come along now, I’ll have you set in no time. You’ll beg no more, child” and he had indeed made her Duchess, after a fashion. Aye, her coronet was a man’s mettle, all bitter and white, but the luxury was the same. Only those who sleep soundly in their beds each night declare that a mighty harlot cannot look a fine lady in the eye and say ‘Aren’t we sisters, dear?’ The difference between her urine-soaked alley bed of old, and the silk sheets and fresh linen of new, is startling enough to make her fear ruination to the point of shudders and flutterings; when there is so much danger in London for a woman to fear; that is her nightmare. A flash of cash is enough for her to open up, out of passion, out of fright. What care she for figures, for the strange minutiae of it all? Yet, men make promises they cannot keep all the time, and they close the breach with kisses and sweat-doused nights and sweetness. She knows this, somewhere. It’s just that, this time, her heart has quite staged a coup. It has taken over.

Her heart has been cautious but never closed. But she fears she has given it to him, in particular, too freely, as he now speaks the words she has dreaded, the words she has suspected but never quite let herself consider for more than a moment.

“I am tired of you”

And now he says she is a strumpet. A doxy brought high and mighty by other men’s money, hard earned fortunes tallied up since the Conqueror. He says “You ought to have remembered that you were mine and mine alone. Instead, you go gadding about the city, always open for business!”

Always open for business! She retorts, she says she has been touched by no other since he took his brief leave, that she has pined only for him. If men have admired her in the streets, that is no fault of hers. Surely, surely, he did not expect her to lock herself away until his return? Surely, my love…oh, she speaks sweetly now, close as she is to spilling tears, surely he does not mean for her to be cosseted and owned?

But he does expect it of her. He expects a biddable mistress, a wife of sorts, though not quite. All warm and inviting, with a mouth to fill and kiss deeply, and flesh so soft and rounded that he can cup it in his hands as he thinks ‘Now this is having my cake and eating it.’ A pretty face to covet, rule and brag on, but never ever be bound to. And in this, he is not quite so different from the others. All the men before, even the pimp who healed her smarting wounds with kindness, kindness that came at a ‘Do as I say or I’ll blacken your eye’ kind of price.

Do not leave. Do not go, she hears herself say, I am ruined. Who will pay my debts? Our debts? she emphasises, debts we trotted up together in our love, in our merrymaking, in our plans for marriage, but he no longer hears her, he abuses her, he shouts and yaps like a fussing puppy.

Hussy! Wench! Snake! Dishonest jade! Lured me in like all your other lovers, who even now make their leave to queue at her door. How can I make an honest woman of a trull? A notorious one, black mould on my family name?

Honest women are what lying, cheating profligates talk of incessantly. A bunch of rakehells predisposed to burning, pathological hypocrisy. In every single syllable, there are visions of maidservants debauched, brothels much used, and dust collecting Bibles much ignored. Who are you to sermonise to me? she must have said. Who are you to pull my conduct apart?

But in the philosophy of it all, there is simply a woman (yes, a courtesan, but a woman all the same, lest, Reader, you be prejudiced against them and their trade) scorned, hurt, misled. A woman who trusted, who believed herself finally in the arms of a future, a new equal, a fine sweetheart to spark upon every night and day. She thought herself safe. She thought herself worthy. She thought herself out of all danger, of all instability past. She thought herself loved.

“I love you” she says, finally.

…and the phrase hangs on the precipice, uttered quietly, sounding monstrous loud, but it doesn’t quite account for the flaming sensation of joy she gets when she thinks of him or the feeling that her ribs might split open and pour out her heated blood every time she looks upon his face. Doesn’t quite cut it.

To be sure, her man is handsome, pretty even, in or out of his stark white wig, at this moment powdered as vigorously as anything he does. In a poem, they may not call him an Adonis but he is beautiful enough to her. And yet, at the declaration, the words that seemed to be a cat set amongst pigeons, he pulls a face so hideous, so reminiscent of one’s first scent of vinegar or of horse manure on a summer’s day, that she quite startles herself out of half-fantasy that he will change his mind.

“Love, madam?’ he says, ever so gently, “how could a harlot know the meaning of the word?”


Olivia Marsh is an aspiring historian, currently studying for a Master’s degree in 18th century history. She is specialising in the social history of Britain from circa. 1660-1820, with a particular emphasis on the history of sexuality and of sex work.

She loves to write both prose and poetry in her spare time, inspired by the everyday lives and emotions of past peoples.

She can be found on Twitter at @myladyteazle

Dead Poets | Alix Penn

the words of dead men stay dead as I read them,
even as I am told that
they
are
great.
Death becomes us all.
dead men tell more tales than the living, and the living
(when asked)
refer me to the dead.

I was not built for poetry, nor hidden prose.
yet, and yet, it is in dead men
somewhere in their words
where the future lies
(or so I am told)
I read the words of dead men.

 (18/11/14)


Alix is a twenty-something museum professional, nerd and musical theatre connoisseur, who uses her background in disability activism, heritage and academic research to try and cultivate further understanding, engagement and interest in forgotten histories both at work and at play.

She can be found on Twitter at @histortea

1989 | A. S. Kresnak

I saw a piece of Berlin’s border wall
behind a velvet rope, on full display
and spotlight-lit. These are the last remains
of cold war fear, defiance, lonely dreams,
and lastly, this: on one November night,
the people gathered, flooding through the gates.
They weren’t held back. In fact, the other side
raised open arms to help them cross the line.
This was a day the world would celebrate.
They would make heroes of the refugees,
asylum-seekers, dreamers, emigrants,
those tearing pieces of the barricade
as souvenirs of freedom from that place.
Who built the wall? I’ll ask you this: who cares?
We’ve seen the way these countries operate.
The ending of the border came so fast
I’ve learned that walls like this can never last.


Writer’s Commentary

I had a class on immigration in Europe. The teacher showed us documentaries on migration, from WWII to the Cold War to the modern-day refugee crises. I was struck by how similar the stories were even as decades passed. Living in America right now, I’m finding hope in history: it shows us that there is always something that we can do, no matter how dark the circumstances seem. This poem expresses my hope.


A.S. Kresnak is a college freshman currently exploring their new state. Their favorite historical period is the Cold War.

They can be found on Twitter @askresnak.

In Memoriam: Their Names | Merril D. Smith

My sisters dead now
I write their names on the church wall–
so many dead,
why, Lord, am I still here?

Cateryn, fair of face,
Amee, sweet and loving,
Jane who sang like a lark
and made me laugh—

no more

will I hear the sound
of their voices,
though my mind teases—
wasn’t that Jane’s titter I heard
at the priest’s stuttering cautions

of heaven and hell–
what does he know of it?

This my hell, my sisters gone,
the three I most adored
in this world–
where they no longer dwell.

So here, my small tribute
that in some future time
one may see their names
and wonder about this trinity

their names left here
in artless manner
but engraved indelibly
on my heart–

Cateryn, Amee, Jane
Anno 1515


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This poem was inspired by the plague graffiti found on the church walls in a Cambridgeshire church.

 


Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, and Mojave Heart Review.

Her blog is at merrildsmith.com and she can be found on Twitter @merril_mds and Instagram @mdsmithnj

The Pogrom | Merril D. Smith

She hid in a haystack—
or—

she climbed into a barrel—
or–

she crawled
into a narrow space

in the now long-vanished barn,
where she became invisible.

Time has fogged the details
in haze, of blaze and cries–

hushed the terror—the whys–
the child, my grandmother,

must have felt
as she heard the boots,

the screams,
the fire’s thunder-roar,

soaring reverberations
almost forgotten

trauma buried deep,
but there, waiting to be sparked,

awakened from smoldering ashes
to flame into a mass in her brain–

and do I carry
within me the burnt ruins

of that long-ago pogrom–
an incipient conflagration–

who knows

but the wisdom of generations
yet flows through my blood.


Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, and Mojave Heart Review.

Her blog is at merrildsmith.com and she can be found on Twitter @merril_mds and Instagram @mdsmithnj