Mary of the Rotten Heart – a poem by Jessie Lynn McMains

Mary of the Rotten Heart

O Mary of the Lake
Goddess of the Empty Cathedral
the cathedral with roof of sky-cerulean
roof of sky-black pinpricked by far-off leaking light
the cathedral which molders
only opens for funerals and midnight masses
presided over by your acolytes
Father Turkey Vulture, choir-boy bats
how they sing so sweet and soft so only you can hear

O Mary of the Cemetery
Patron Saint of Curses and Hauntings
mother of little-boy ghosts and little girl-beasts
babes you buried centuries ago
now they roam the pioneers’ graveyard
with pennies where their eyes once were
with green-black snakes as playmates
how they blink the penny eyes in their snake-belly white faces
how they scare the tourists

O Mary of the Rotten Heart
Patron Saint of Coffee Grounds and Mouth Sores
mother who rose from the dunes
sand-burned and wreathed in algae
you bearer of bad news
harbinger of doom
bitch who cursed me to forever want what used to be
I want I want them back but O
old friends are dead to me
or dead in the red red dirt
once-lovers turned to foes
and how the landscape shifts with every northern wind

O Mary how you maim me
this peninsula is cold and full of stars
I drive into the dusty rotten heart of it
in search of talismans
in search of the leaking song of used-to-be
I hear whispers in the radio static
see faces in the fog so green
my third eye is a lighthouse
no match for you and the sea-change of your moods
how you offer me the sun then leave me with the bitter beer-dark lake

O Mary of the Porte des Mortes
Goddess of Shipwrecks and Rogue Waves
cohort to the underwater panther
you drown the sailors with your claws bared
crack the ships between your teeth
Nambi-Za spits their snake-belly souls up as offering
you festoon yourself with necklaces of tarnished cutlery
O Mary
O Death how you forget
though they played at piracy my friends were never sailors

O Mary I remember that day when the ship came
and there you were in your robes of cerulean
your halo burning black as night
O Mary I said don’t you weep for me
O mama I said
don’t leave me mama
take me with you mama
keep me safe in heaven
dead with all my friends
don’t leave me
and I fell to my knees and I clutched at your robes and O
you turned into a seagull
a flash of wing and squawk in the dying light
and I felt this lump in my throat like a penny like a stone
I coughed it into my mouth onto my tongue
how sweet it was how bitter like beer like coffee grounds like ghosts
I spit it into my palm and it was warm and wet
it was my heart
it was a lakefull of algae and rusty knives and rotten fish
O Mary how I laid it down by the shoreline
how I spelled it out in pebbles on the sunset beach
this my obituary
my epitaph
my psalm my spell my poem

Jessie Lynn McMains is a poet, writer, and small press owner. Her words have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Memoir Mixtapes, Dirty Paws Poetry Review, Left of the Lake Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She collects souvenir pennies and stick & poke tattoos, and is perpetually nostalgic, melancholy, and restless. You can find her website at, or find her on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie

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