Ancrene Wisse (commended poem: 2016 competition)

                                                                                         for homeless women everywhere

OUTER RULE I : Of Devotions

They have shaggy quads and, down inside
their cowboy boots at least one cloven hoof,
and, under silk that ripples like the breath
of Southerners, a pelt of hair keeps safe
the rings and rhinestones nestling in their nipples,
wolf teeth on a leather thong, an amulet
– a stolen locket, heart, enamel apple –
threaded through with silver and a gimlet.
Señorita, nothing neater
than your little feet, what sweeter,
dancing in the street. We treat her
to a lime-salt margarita,
drink a thimble, drink a litre
feel the heat, come love a cheater.

INNER RULE II: Of The Senses

Daily devotions start at four fifteen
when daybreak’s still a twinkle in the eye
of dark. A waiting blackbird takes her oraison
and threads its plainchant through the ashy lye
of Tuesday; full of grace, of darling buds,
and symmetry, or so it used to be

till stormclouds caught, and burst, on lightning rods
when rain thrashed upwards from the burning sea
to sluice and scour the blistered moon with salt
and wash the flaming auras from the stars
to rinse the sweat that soaked their stolen sheets
and cleanse the stain of wanting from the tears

before she found the changeling in her bed;
before the mossy stones bricked up her heart.

INNER RULE III: Of Confession

My larceny was love
my felony to feel
my crime was to caress
my slander was to sigh
my treason was to touch
my murder was to move
my trespass was to tremble
my delict was to dream
my breach was to believe
my vice was to reveal
my failing was to fall
my tort was to be true
my theft was not to thole

INNER RULE IV: Of Domestic Matters

hell hath no hole like a woman unturned
— that’s what he said as he flipped his wife
(on yer face cockatrice); which he’d earned
for working rigs the brunt of his life.

INNER RULE V: Of Penance

Ancrene Wisse: the way a young woman run South must
reform, being silent in all things, fixed in contemplation
of the Father the Son the Holy Ghost, the King and of misericord
she must be thankfull to all of her Lords for her daily breath
which cometh from the magnanimous tithe of Tarente Kaines
for the folds of her robe hide the skindeep woad, which says
she is a Pict above all things, painted, rough, cold of blood,
still yearning for Northern hills where she was bear-weaned

INNER RULE VI : Of The Likeness to Birds

On winter nights as she lies on the stone floor of her gaol
with a buttress of rock under the knuckles of her vertebrae
a beam like a police search finds the hole in her cell wall
and pierces the night inside, waking her with a white glare
which they say is a blessing. But it’s nobody but the moon
fending off the sun’s assault, spilling her grief in a bright pool.

OUTER RULE VII: Of Love

The first man came and put his hand on her hand
hallelujah, how she felt the fishes jump
The second man brought roses for her hair
O hallelujah, how her ringlets curled
The third man told her stories of the moon
O, hallelujah, how her eyes lit up
The fourth man said her little teeth were pearls
O, halleliujah, how she bit his thumb
The fifth man locked the door and tossed the key
O hallelujah, how the tow-rope cut
The sixth and seventh men took ends then swapped
O hallelujah how she howled and spat
as man eight man nine man ten held her down
and stopped her mouth. And that was that.