Catherine Dismembered – a poem by Cynthia Sowers

III.            Catherine Dismembered
 from 'Saints' Tales: Dialogues in Solitude'
 
“Then, standing before the door of the temple, she held a long disputation with the Caesar, arguing according to the divers modes of the syllogisms, by allegory and metaphor, by logic and mystic.”
             Jacobus de Voragine, The Legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria,
                        trans. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger
                        (Arno Press, 1969), pp. 709; 715-716.
 
 
Her story flares up,
ignited from a clump –
of hair perhaps, a shred of skin
already scorched, a cinder,
the dust of ash,
 
less plausibly deciphered
than a leopard’s claw,
a sliver of bone or a tuft,
the annual relic of the oryx
and its symmetrical foe -
the heraldry of realms
outside of speech.
 
Yet this fragment
at the extremity of sense
was seized by speech,
kidnapped and borne away,
borne aloft,
in the story’s radiant monstrance
within which was written
the bejeweled and astounding
discourse of a princess
who struck down with her words
the sixty philosophers,
the rhetors and orators,
the abject grammarians
assembled to impress her.
 
Against them she turned
the three-spoked wheel of her argument:
 
the Speculative, divided into
               the Intellectual
               the Natural
               and the Mathematical;
 
the Practical, divided into
               the Ethical
               the Economical
               and the Political;
 
and the Logical, divided into
              the Demonstrative, pertaining to philosophers,
              the Probable, pertaining to rhetors and dialecticians,
              and the Sophistic, pertaining to sophists.
 
For in her was all philosophy.
 
In lofty and vulnerable rotations
the fragment took flight,
upheld by angels,
translated from palace to tower
to the most pure height
of the mountain,
and there extravagantly given
to the tree aflame,
beating to engender
in unspeakable recessions of blue,
the body of God.

Cynthia Sowers was a Senior Lecturer at the Residential College of the University of Michigan until retirement in 2019. Five of her poems were published in the inaugural issue of the Solum Journal (Fall 2020). https://cynthiasowers.rc.lsa.umich.edu/

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