By Jeannine M. Pitas - Buffalo, New York, USA - 18 August 2014




the saint I chose

really more of a goddess

back from times stitched together more tightly

patches of solid colors, starker contrasts

when it wasn't so easy to hide our crimes,

when a widowed father insisted on assuaging

his grief through marriage

to his only daughter

then set out to kill you

when you refused --


I'm sixteen. I'm about to wear a long red robe, to receive the Holy Spirit. A bishop will rub oil on my face. I'm sixteen, the perfect age for choosing a new name. Sister Antonita has us sitting in the music room, ruminating over colorful books of hallowed men and women. One by one the covers are shut. Maureen and Maxine have cheerleading practice. Matt Kemp has a swim meet. I have nothing but a lot of homework and a menopausal mother and a workaholic/alcoholic father, so I stay. It's not everyday you get to choose a new name. I flip through haloed faces. No Catharines or Elizabeths or Teresas for me. Shall I be Zita, patron of cooks? Magdalene, the Church's true founder, passed over by those who refused to believe a woman could lead? Perpetua the martyr, her beloved Felicity? My eyes settle on your face. Dymphna. A name I can hardly pronounce, a name almost too beautiful to say.


You ran
from islands to seas you ran
in a time when we couldn't hide
the monsters inside us
so securely as we do now
ancient goddess, woman warrior
for centuries the popes were scared of you
that's why they had to make you a saint.


She gives me a chain, strung with your medallion. For confirmation I choose not only a name, but a sponsor, a godparent I get to pick for myself. When I choose Sharon I know that she's going, even though she has done her chemo, even though she takes all the supplements. It's in her eyes, behind the the triumph, behind the defiance. Every day she is going, even though all of us -- me too -- plead with her to stay. But first, she gives me your chain, your medallion. When she hands you to me she creates a circuit that nothing can break. And when I clasp you around me I ask you to hold her inside your stark silver, to turn her spirit into a metal disc I might always press to my skin.


Of course
he found you
raped you killed you
why does a woman have to die
before she can be called virtuous?
why did you have to disappear
before you could do your mightiest deeds?


Dymphna. Everyone knows that if you say a word enough times it loses its meaning, the same way that if you wear a sentimental article of clothing enough times it also starts to mean nothing. I couldn't tell you where I keep my glasses -- somehow they end up covering my eyes each day, vanishing at night. The same goes for you. For years you were just a piece of metal. I forgot that in choosing you I'd chained myself to the story of a girl who grew up in extreme violence, a girl who couldn't escape. I forgot that I'd promised to save you somehow, redeem you by wearing your story around my neck. I'd forgot that you could redeem me: that in listening to you I might hear myself, that in whispering your name, I might also hear mine.


But now
I have come back to you
remembering that at Gheel,
those who prayed to you
found that the crimes became broken
fabrics were torn to be remade
tapestries re-woven
evil spirits fled
epileptics found stillness
former lunatics gazed at the moon
and smiled
their greatest revenge
was peace