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Margaret MacDonald

by Annie Boutelle

Port Glasgow, 1830

Fifteen, and the first blood oozing,
staining her sark, and nightly she
dreams of boys unbuttoning. Their
clumsy arms, dirty fingernails,
hidden hardness. In the raunchy
rain-soaked city, only the slow grey
river knows her secrets, and it
dumps them into the Irish Sea.

She learns to slouch, look down,
hide in the warm stink of the close,
scurry past pubs and the lurching
men who fling coarse words. She
binds her breasts, flattens them
into nothing. Stops talking, lives
on water and prayer, thins and fills
with the spirit of Jesus, his dear
blood there on the sheet, a sign.

And she is the lamp, brimming
with oil, waiting for the bridegroom
—she’ll blaze in his presence, while
the land swarms with terrors, hiss
of the serpent, seas and waves
heaving—and his day shall be as
the lightning, and his church
a golden candlestick. His hand
reaches out to grasp, her heart
a flame, and the long fingers
cool and gentle there on her cheek.


Annie Boutelle, born and raised in Scotland, is the author of Thistle and Rose: A Study of Hugh MacDiarmid’s Poetry. Founder of the Poetry Center at Smith College, she teaches in the English department there. She has published poems in various journals, including The Georgia Review, The Hudson Review, and Poetry. The University of Arkansas Press published her first book of poems, Becoming Bone: Poems on the Life of Celia Thaxter. Her second book of poems, Nest of Thistles, won the 2005 Samuel French Morse Prize from Northeastern University Press. (11/2007)

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