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Holding up Half the Sky
Rosemary Mitchell & Hannah Stone
From the Egyptian desert to the courts of Europe, via Tudor England and the White House, nuns, prostitutes, princesses and suffragettes speak to you. They are handed a megaphone by Rosemary Mitchell and Hannah Stone, who have redrafted their histories in poems and stories.
‘In this ambitious and triumphant collection,
Hannah Stone and Rosemary Mitchell ink the stories of women whose power has been blotted out of the history books to celebrate their small and dramatic rebellions. Sometimes the language honours the time periods in which they lived. At others, 21st Century diction brings home the relevance of these women’s lives with which we ‘have far more in common than that which divides us.’
‘A colourful pageant of historical females reveals its secret history in this fascinating work. These women are not quiet and decorous: they are earthy and unashamed. Stone and Mitchell have based their work on historical sources, breathing new life into them. The result is powerful and accomplished.’
Regina - Rosemary Mitchell
Alas! Regina, my love, my wife, my queen!
You had a Celtic name I could not say
when first I purchased you, amid
the soft southern hills of this far-spread
Britannia. The Syrian girls I knew, dark-haired,
with eyes like glistening olives, were dusky-fair
pillars in Palmyra. You paled beside them.
But your storm-green eyes, changing like
northern seas, the angular jut
of your chin, a dauntless cliff, and the
uncertain shades in the forests of
your hair enchanted me. You had no words
I recognised, but there was a hard and salty
magic in your voice. Bride in this flowery desert
of the north, my slave commanded me, being queenly.
A perfect pearl which the diver finds
only once beneath the wave in a watery
lifetime. We came north to this wall,
for business sake – I being a banner-maker
to the Emperor’s army. These rigid Romans still
yearn for dominion, planting their flags and feet
in all the world’s wild corners. These lands tripped them up,
of course. This is an ever-shifting space
of winding streams, misty moors, and wild woods.
A land like you, my love: untamed.
To discipline this puzzling place, these soldiers built
a wall, on which I freed you, saw you fly
like a falcon rising in the winds. It’s where I wed you,
too, and watched you die, slow gasping in your pain.
And now a Roman-handed sculptor tries to fix your image
on your tomb. I said to him – this slave was my Zenobia,
more conquering than the sun, and pale, mysterious
as the moon. Shape her here in stone for evertime.
He makes you now a prim Roman matron, spinning wool
and showing your jewel box with a smirk of pride.
By the gods of your strange land, this is not you!
You were your own jewel, and mine too; and to
my poor southern limbs, chilled by winter winds,
you were as warm as a woollen cloak. When the mason
is gone, I will smite away this simpering stone face,
and restore some jot, a qal, of unmasked you.
Patricia - Hannah Stone
When you’re a ninety-two year old Byzantinist,
the conference comes to you.
On a snowy evening, after the speeches,
I place a glass of red into trembling fingers,
and hold pretzels in a napkin
for you to peck at between anecdotes,
blowing crumbs at me as I bend my ear to your tale.
Sixty years of conference wool on your back,
you’re no longer upright,
but your gaze is straight as an arrow,
and your eyes bright, now with fun,
as we agree being naughty is wasted on the young,
now with tears for your long gone husband.
An attendant daughter suggests I circulate,
but I’m hooked, swapping stories about Brussels,
(mine circa 1973, yours post-war),
and the joy of bearing children – and then it’s time to part,
and I press a kiss onto the soft crenulations of your cheek.
Your history warms me as I pick a route
back over the crusted ice of a reluctant spring.
Macrina - Hannah Stone
She should not be passed over in silence and her life rendered ineffective…
—St. Gregory of Nyssa.
No, I will not.
God gave me choices when he took
the man I was to marry,
and I will not lie down beneath another,
and watch my proved belly swell.
I will bind up my heart
in place of leaking breasts,
and mother those brothers of mine.
Ah, for all their philosophy, they can find
no word for me but bastardized masculinities.
They envy my ‘manly soul’, praise me
for fathering their orphaned selves.
I will not rouse the skivvy from her thin sleep,
but let her rest. I’ll take the yeast,
crumble its humility into flour
then wait. And wait.
They rose, and blessed me
for guarding and forming their piety.
I left them to shape their futures,
punching out their doctrines,
and when they come, from time to time,
wearied and dusty from the world,
they eat the bread I’ve baked.
I will not waste the crumbs.
Life-Cycle: on My Late Mother’s Charm Bracelet - Rosemary Mitchell
It starts with a Turtle, ancient world-bearer
slow-rolling out your lifespan with a secret smile.
Destiny dictates, too, a Spinning-Wheel, where your humble
history’s spun. No royal finger’s pricked, though:
you’re but a doctor’s daughter, woven in Wales,
so here’s a Fleur-de-Lys, a prince’s feather for
your country, and a Miner’s Lamp for your forbears.
Your grandfather struck black gold from a coal-face, and I recall
now that you hammered on a typewriter at the Coal Board
in the fifties. And here hangs a Chimney-Sweep, top-hatted
with his lucky ladder: a cheeky promise of fortune for a bride
on her wedding day. About the middle of the chain, a Heart is
fastened, close to a Welsh Love-Spoon, and a Scout Hat:
These three spell Dad. A green-tinted china Tyrolean Hat
hanging nearby, recalls with a porcelain clarity your holidays.
You ever loved a mountain – and a drink, the Tankard tells me.
And that Leather Bottle, did it once hold wine?
A Silver Bird swoops in, letter in beak: a message, perhaps
for the mother Cow? Sometime after I am born, the Sled
begins to slide downhill. But there’s still Leo, your birth-sign:
you’re brave of heart, and will rage against the dying
of Green Light. Towards the end, I see the signs of passing time,
a blue-flowered Bell, and a Clock, which ticks to termination
in a Cathedral’s shade. Your circle’s closed; the charms
all told. I wrap and lock your bracelet in a chest,
secure you as soundly as I can in the Round Tower
of my weeping heart.