Sunday, June 17, 2012

Matt Talbot: a Slave to the Virgin (poem)

[Irish poet Patrick Cotter has called Tanya Olson’s “Slave to the Virgin” a “poem with overt Irish subject matter--a biographical treatment of Matt Talbot which deftly balances the voice of an omniscient narrator with the fictional personal voice of Talbot speaking himself.]

Slave to the Virgin

Tanya Olson

Matt Talbot walked Dublin
with crushed glass in his socks.
With barbed wire around his chest.
Chains wrapped his right arm
and knee, cords on the other side.
Hid these bindings beneath his clothes.
Crossed the city’s river moving from mass
to mass this way because he found himself
a slave to the Virgin.

Carried bricks for a living. Made alms
of what he earned. Slept only
on a plank bed. Kept but a timber
for his pillow. Never swore. Took
the pledge. No tobacco. Told no one
how he lived for pride in devotion
he thought the most devious sin of them all.

Bound his body to learn his body.
Learned his body to forget
his body. How else to get to empty.
How else to reach freedom but by journey.
Back and forth across the waters
beneath the monkey puzzle trees.
Walked quickly. Head down.
How else to approach her
but with a tested heart made toom.

A slave amn’t I. My body a coffle
chained in one world
driven to the next. There’s mornings
I think of heaving me
over the bridge. Nights, I dream
I cross the river north
to hide myself from myself.
To keep me off my trail.

But there’s no smarts in that.
This river is a knife
through the city’s middle.
These trees are but puzzles
to a monkey.
Amn’t I a slave to the Virgin.
Amn’t I a hod-carrier for the Lord.
Source: We appreciate that Tanya has placed this poem online at