of humanity, lost and found

I am preparing a collection of stories for a storytelling show I am calling '(in)humanity' - stories I am collecting like a magpie building a nest from treasure found along her way. Hannah Kent's Burial Rites inspired this poem, which may or may not become one of the treasures in the show, but resonates as I explore stories of devastating depth of our inhumanity, and the courageous heights to which our humanity can, and does occasionally, soar.

So I offer this poem, by way of grateful homage and response for a story well told; by way of telling the story of my storytelling show that is in creation.

Agnes’s story
reading Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent.

1. The End

Compel her to repent!
Fist pound, sweat drip,
fiery cheek, a premonition
of the witch’s stake
she is already tied upon.

Compel her to confess!
Finger point, bold stride,
shout, parry, argue –
prosecute before she’s taken
her seat in the dock.

Don’t sit beside her, don’t let her
speak, don’t meet her eye,
I repeat – we know what she
has done and she is through,
swift blade of justice run.

2. Beginning

The young priest hardly knows
what he does as he straps
the harness, hoists up into
his seat, rides towards –
her – condemned, killer, criminal.

‘Agnes – may I use your name?’
‘That is what it is for.’
And he doesn’t say much more.

Needles tapping through yarn break
the silence;
                     his eyes rest beside him
on her working woman’s hands:

flickering fire and candle pierce
the dark, family members wrap another
blanket against the chill, glance
across the room, but risk not
a meeting of relative eyes.

The trapdoor creaks, more light
seeps through the crack, and one
by one the secrets crawl, released,
into the hungry space between

3. Centre

The platform stands raw
and lonely on the ancient hill.
Witnesses shiver in the sunshine.
Scrape, scrape, the sharpening
of the blade
                                       her accomplice
first to the block.

Agnes fingers the brooch, the shawl,
the memory of their embrace,
their coming closer through her story,
eyes held, hands met
and she exhales,

                              at last.


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