Mother Superior, I Cannot Pray — Slender Aphrodite has set the Nunnery Ablaze
Walking through the convent,
I pick a few things that belong to Sister Catherine
a scarf, a letter, a sewing needle and its thread.
Passing through the hall I gather some trinkets from Sister Anne,
a letter opener, a holy text, that wilting vase of lilies.
I have started a fire in the fireplace —
A sensible location.
It is already roaring with all my belongings,
everything I’ve ever held, donned,
hung on the wall to admire.
I want to stuff the entire building into the flames,
an architectural ouroboros.
But Cécilia urges patience,
she clutches my hand
as the flames feel their way towards her room —
a million hot sins seeking absolution.
Won’t you forgive me for disinterring that body?
Won’t that body forgive me?
Don’t you all know your Sappho:
“Sweet mother, I cannot weave –
slender Aphrodite has overcome me
with longing for a girl.”
I needed the corpse to convince them my love had perished.
Her family would prefer that to her fate with me.
I think briefly of my father as we jump the convent’s overgrown wall.
What will he think when the Parlement of Aix butcher my name
and the good nuns of Avignon begin to smell smoke?
Julie d’Aubigny (c. 1670–1707) led a short but storied life. While many details remain unconfirmed, she was a bisexual opera singer skilled in swordsmanship and once infiltrated and burned down a convent to escape with her lover, Cécilia Bortigali. Julie put a recently deceased nun in Cécilia’s bed to really sell the story. The couple broke up three months later.
“I am made for perils, as well as for tenderness.”
— Julie d’Aubigny, in a letter, 1703