Another Way To Tell It
She appears in broad daylight with long hair that floats like a cloud of diamonds. I know what clouds are made of—in this case and on this island, it is diamonds. She lifts her sharp chin to the wind and floats downriver as a queen. She knows exactly where she is headed—to appear and reappear on the riverbank precisely where she pleases, neither running nor remaining kept. I’m so proud to think of her with a balanced collarbone and blue gown and long arms, sweeping gown, sweeping arms, sweeping bones, before their eventual encasement in wood.
On land she was accustomed to leading an animal by the teeth, unafraid (but a little afraid) to let her hair show, but on the water she is a proud living statue leading from the front. There is of course intrigue, to do with the circumstances of her travel. On land she was held in a small community of women who led animals to and from a watering hole, stitched embroidery with precise posture, and prayed morning, noon, and night. She was asked on more than one occasion why her wimple was dirty. She was reprimanded in the strongest possible terms for embroidering what looked like chain mail, or broken porcelain, or perhaps a series of interconnected daggers, on her allotted cotton bolts. She could not stop herself from laying out in thread what she saw in her mind, and in this case what she saw in her mind was a series of interconnected, overlapping blades. The fabric, which would be sewn into holy vestments and sold for the benefit and profit of the convent, to keep it in bags of rice and sacramental wine, piled up next to her on both sides, latticed with the product of her obsessive stitching. She stitched faster and faster, faster than any of the other sisters, giving form to every sparkling angle in her head, the gleaming and refracting abstractions that occupied her thoughts and visions, day and night. Her third punishment (starvation, hard labor) failed to prevent her from riddling all fabric within her reach, and then her own skin, with needle holes trailing thread in a jagged geometry, she was bound and held for forty-eight hours. The Monsignor was called, and he entered her room with a solemn demeanor and a black bag. He was thorough, thorough, in his search for the devil’s mark, the place where the Evil One had entered her—a loophole, a trapdoor, a place to push into like a finger through the skin of overripe fruit. He stripped her of nightgown and undergarments without untying her, and he was rigorous in his laying on of hands, the application of the healing touch and whispered, guttural, strangled word of God.
Kiley McLaughlin is a poet living in San Francisco, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Heavy Feather Review, DIAGRAM, and in chapbooks from Patient Presses and horse less press. She has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers' Workshop as well as UC Santa Cruz, where she is currently pursuing a dual creative/critical doctorate in Literature and Creative Writing.