Impossible to call them dead things, those
lights in the sky. Don’t tell me
about time; it is all now.
* * *
My Breton ancestor when still a girl
ran away from the turnips and pig-yards of Saint-Perec,
ran away to Paris but was caught by soldiers on the road
and brought back to their service in the fort at Rennes.
This cut-purse Jeannette, strumpet, clever enough
not to die but you’d hardly call that living, to be
bitch of the barracks—
One fine night, spring of 1342 by the old calendar,
two thieves were hanged and then thrown,
according to the commander’s whim,
to crackle and stink on a bonfire. My ancestor was sent
to clean the pit that had served as their dungeon,
told she’d have to stay there
if she didn’t clean it right.
With a baby slung on her back
she swept the shit, then paused to look up
through a hole in the thatch.
She could see the moonless dark
and the star-figures she drew as a child
on the sky: the Bear and the Rooster, all that blackness
pinned and spinning in a stately ronde—
the Cat that chases the Bird, the King’s Crown wheeling
toward the Soup Ladle, the Two Donkeys,
and the Star of Sainte Ghislaine.
* * *
This poem appeared in the April 5, 2012 issue of the magazine.