The Beata – a poem by Ray Ball

The Beata

The historian: I found
in my research into the records
of the inquisition
that in the beata’s room
sat a pot of marmalade,
along with bundles of herbs,
fragments of leaves, and
flowering plants. On her cell wall,
a small icon much like the one
in the beguinage’s chapel hung.

The beata: I was
once a candidate for sanctity,
though I am but a frail
and weak woman.
I told them I consumed
scents of blossom and incense.
Fragrant wood,
the breath of whispered intercessions.
Spice of holiness.
Yes, I made a tincture
for pain relief. This was
after my visions arrived. I saw her,
the Virgin, radiant in blue.
She waited at the bridge.
Rain had given way.
The earth and I were
both sated with her dazzling light.

The confessor: She told me
the herbs helped her to see.
My tongue clicked against
the remains of my teeth.
The world is full
of sinful and false
women. I refused her
absolution until she
denounced herself
before the holy tribunal.

The beata: I was
imprisoned in a crumbling cell.
They questioned me many times.
We women cooked the meals
and served them.
They questioned me many times
often in the morning
extracting my answers
the way barbers lance a boil.
Then they whipped me
in the city square.
Sentenced me to the exile
of seasickness and humid jungle.
But still I see the Virgin
among the flowers. I pray
for forgiveness so that
my own soul blossoms,
so that the bees bring
the pollen of her love.
I pray to be worthy of growth
like the Saint John’s wort
also transplanted here.


Ray Ball grew up in a house full of snakes. She is a history professor, Pushcart-nominated poet, and editor at Alaska Women Speak. Her first chapbook Tithe of Salt was recently published by Louisiana Literature Press, and she has recent publications in Coffin BellMoria, and UCity Review.

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