Thursday, June 5, 2014

Two Marys



Do I move through stone walls? No
I glide within them -- a shaft
of gleaming satin. Sometimes
you hear my gown rustle, sometimes not.
But I have heard many
confuse  my reign with hers -- Bloody Mary
first daughter of the heretic king.
Both queens, we shared the same name
and faith. Close to the breast, we held
a crucifix, our secret  letters and sins, a lover's head,
( My brave James of Bothwell.)
Yet, the killings were hers. Pikes and swords
moved from field to town, stained
barn and tower scarlet. My hands were clean;
they clutched heather.
 Do I breathe letting the tapestry flinch,
its lords and ladies lick dust?  Perhaps,
but at one point, I also shared with her
the most grievous  sigh - the womb
befallen to an empty bowl. Hers
held the belief of a child
that stopped the menses, swelled the belly
until her condition waned
in truth.  Nothing was there --
except the shadow of want.
Mine broke into sudden spasms
then blood. The twins' pulse
fell silent,  their presence left
as pale moths to gnaw
holes in my voice. And I sobbed
killing the light.

Notes-- This poem was written in the voice of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland,  reflecting on how her legacy is different than that of her English cousin, Mary Tudor, first daughter of Henry the eighth. The latter was called "Bloody Mary" because her brief reign on the English throne oversaw numerous persecution/ deaths of protestant clergymen, scholars and rebels. Though her father had separated from The Catholic Church in Rome, proclaiming himself the head of the nation' s church, she tried to restore Catholicism to the country and its people by force. She married late in life and was desperate to conceive a male heir to keep her half sister, Elizabeth the First, from ascending the throne after her death. In her late thirties, married to Philip of Spain, she thought she was finally pregnant. All the signs were there, ceased menstruation, swollen abdomen, morning sickness etc. However, in time, her physical symptoms diminished and her body returned to its normal state. It was declared a false pregnancy. 
Mary Stewart, who was much younger and ascended the Scottish throne after Mary Tudor's death was also Catholic but tolerated protestant followers within her realm. She produced one heir to succeed the throne and then miscarried twins by her lover and later 3rd husband, James, Earl of Bothwell. She was eventually convicted  of  conspiring to kill the British queen and rule England as well as Scotland. Her death warrant was signed by Elizabeth in 1587 and she was executed shortly after.   Throughout history and literature, she has been portrayed as  a beautiful, courageous and vulnerable heroine unlike the other Mary known for her brutal treatment of protestants and  dissidents of the Papal state.
My poem is , of course, fictitious in its character's reflections and thoughts; but was inspired by listening to a poem , over at,  called "Bloody Mary by April Bernard. On the June podcast, she read her poem and mistakenly said that this was about the infamous queen, Bloody Mary, Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, when she should of said, Mary Tudor. The mistake is easy enough to make but when branding a murderous reputation on a queen who was compassionate and a victim of political ambition and power-play, it gives thought to what the ghost of this beautiful sovereign might feel and think. So my poem gives her a chance to speak about it.

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