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holy cards: dead women talking


holy cards: dead women talking

holy cards: dead women talking

If given one more chance to tell their stories, what would they say, the holy women of the distant and not so distant past? What would St. Agatha say about her encounter with St. Peter when he appeared in her prison cell to restore her breasts amputated during torture? What would St. Margaret the Barefoot tell us about how she struggled to remain true to her religion while suffering abuse at the hands of her husband? How did St. Teresa of Avila feel about the relic of her right hand ending up on the bedside table of Generalissimo Franco? Did Angela of Foligno feel any remorse after praying for the deaths of her children, husband and mother? What did the martyrs Thea and Valentina whisper to each other before they were burned alive, their bodies bound together? And what did St. Cunegundes think about being forced to undergo trial by fire to prove her fidelity?

holy cards: dead women talking takes another look at the histories and legends of women saints from both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman traditions, while weaving together contemporary themes of women’s place in religion and society, female sexuality, violence against women, and the evolution of a uniquely feminine Christian spirituality. Written in the first person, each of these narrative poems sheds light on women who were so possessed by their love of Christ, they were sometimes driven to pathological extremes; who could not write about God except in the most erotic of images; who worked joyously and tirelessly in the service of the poor and forgotten; and who sometimes sacrificed their lives to be true to their inner vision.

Excerpts from the book

holy cards: sts. valentina and thea

Dates uncertain. Arrested together during the reign of Galerius (305-311) and brought before the Roman governor Firmillian at Caesarea. When ordered to sacrifice to the gods, it is said Valentina overturned the altar in an act of defiance. She was bound to her companion Thea and together they were burned alive.

they bound us together
breast to breast
belly to belly
thigh to thigh
our women’s arms
a shelter for each other

i watched as they added green branches to the wood
to slow down the fire
make it last

don’t look at them, thea
she said
look at me
only me
and i fell into the mercy of her eyes

my body trembled
she thought i was afraid
we’ll be in heaven soon
she said
and i bent my head
to her innocent neck

heaven is this
i replied
is this

holy cards – st. agatha

Born third century Sicily. Martyred circa 251. According to legend, she was arrested for being a Christian and brought before the Roman governor of Sicily, Quintianus. When she rebuffed his seductions, he had her imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed. His tortures included the tearing off of her breasts, which, it is said, were miraculously restored to her through a vision of St. Peter shortly before her martyrdom. She is therefore frequently portrayed holding a plate bearing a pair of amputated breasts.

i never asked him for my breasts

too many men already
haggling over my flesh
what stays
what goes

he appeared in my cell
in a great swirl of mystic light
but his eyes stayed glued
to the bloody blanket
lying flat against my chest

bad day? he asked
been better, i replied

here, he said
let me fix you
and he reached out his hand

no thanks
i’m good

a wrinkle creased his saintly brow

but i can give them back to you, he said

i know
but don’t

why not?

because i’m asking

he scratched his saintly scalp

but you don’t want to enter heaven…
do you?

they’re going to kill me tomorrow
breasts or no
i’m going in the ground

he worked his saintly jaw
like he was chewing it over
then he nodded
and faded

but he must have been impressed
must have understood

because in the morning
when i could bring myself
to look beneath the covers
i found on my chest
            not my breasts
but his balls

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