By Zaqary Fekete
Bernelle was brushing away a grey hair when the women entered the church library on Tuesday night. There were three, and they always dragged their chairs to the same places no matter how the room was arranged. Ardys sat by the wall of children’s Bible drawings. Rose and Patricia sat on either side of the door, as if they were ready to leave.
No one else ever came. They had been meeting for 3 weeks.
Before Bernelle could ask, Ardys was already complaining about the poem from last time. “He’s so vulgar,” Ardys clucked, “Look at this. Look at what he writes!” She gestured with the poem book while pointing with a long finger.
“What don’t you like?” Bernelle asked.
“It’s the whole thing,” Ardys was tapping the guilty page repeatedly as she spoke. She looked quickly at the other two women before dropping her eyes to the page and reading out loud, “This…’A shape with lion body and the head of a man…’ Filthy. …I could wring his neck!”
The hour dragged by in hitches and puffs. Ardys packed up her purse to leave and turned to Bernelle. “No more Yeats, please.” And she left.
That evening at home Bernelle took out the poem book. She turned back to the poem. She still felt like she was new to the experience of reading these verses.
Since last summer, in order to avoid certain thoughts, she had tried various things. First it had been gardening, but everything died. She had also tried stamps but the tired, tiny pictures left her exhausted.
Father Haverstock had said that there were a fair many other women in the parish who were recently widowed. It might be nice to provide something. Some kind of outlet. He had finished this thought by reciting a Psalm. Something like, “The Lord knows the brokenhearted and sits by the crushed in spirit.” Bernelle couldn’t quite remember how it went. But she got the idea.
“Wasn’t that poetry?” she had said.
“Yes, perhaps,” he smiled.
And so the idea for the weekly poetry club was hatched. Several women said that they would come, but, in the end, only Ardys, Rose, and Patricia showed up. Ardy’s husband had died last year. Rose and Patricia weren’t married, they were just lonely.
Bernelle put the Yeats book back on her bedside table, and she clicked off the light. It took her awhile to fall asleep. As she stared out at the dark room she remembered snatches and bits of the poems from the last three weeks. She also remembered what the women had said. She made a few mental notes.
Poets tried: Yeats, Pinsky, and Oliver.
Poems tried: “The Second Coming”, “Shirt”, and “The Lamb”.
Poets rejected: All three.
“The Second Coming” was vulgar. It sounded dangerous according to Ardys. (It is, thought Bernelle, with a small smile.)
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“Shirt” was confusing. Too many uses of seamstress language like “The presser, the cutter, the wringer, the mangle”…(to be sure, Bernelle didn’t understand all these words either, but she liked the way they sounded.) “The Lamb” was a temptress. Ardys had said, “High school children might get a hold of it and make out.” Bernelle thought this was very funny, but she knew what Ardys meant. It was kind of seductive. The lamb in the poem had chosen wrong. Bernelle recalled the pregnant line, “And not till I lay, swelled and cracked on the grass, did I guess what I had eaten.”
She really didn’t have a tremendously firm grasp on her intentions…she just knew that it might be meaningful to disrupt their schedules a bit. They sat church on Sundays. They had bridge on Thursdays. They hoped for visits from family on Saturdays. But much of the rest of the week was, frankly, empty.
As Bernelle finally drifted off to sleep she decided to try one more poet with the women next week. If she got the same response maybe she would abandon the poetry club altogether.
The next Tuesday Bernelle was waiting in the church library with four pieces of paper in her hand. Ardys arrived first as usual and situated herself by the Bible verses. The two women made small talk until Rose and Patricia arrived and sat down like door guardians.
Bernelle took a deep breath. She handed out the copies.
Ardys glanced at the paper and looked up, confused, “Where’s the name?”
Bernelle gave her a small smile, “Let’s just try it. Would anyone be willing to read it out loud for the rest of us?”
There was a pause while the three women glanced over the poem on the page. There was a pleasant silence that settled over the library. Ardys looked up, “I’ll read it.”
The women settled into place while Ardys flicked the paper straight. She adjusted her glasses and began to read.
There is a me that knew and a me that did not know
that in the doorway it was crouching
a silky venom
in those dark gardens with people sewn into the trees
I was still young and left my family once to teach men
Day after day
I drank…I ate… wild honey from the cleft
broiled fish and forbidden wheat
There were grapes and figs
wine and a tearable flat bread
And finally when
I was on the tree
I knew the cup
Not until the ninth hour
Did I feel the fell weight of the world
I cried out just one time I couldn’t help it
He wasn’t there
Ardys finished reading. Her eyes flicked back over the page a few times. “It’s very simple, isn’t it.”
Rose was sitting thoughtfully. Patricia had taken out her Bible and was fishing through it for something. She seemed to have found it, paused as she read something, and then sat back in silence.
Ardys gave Bernelle a look. “I like it,” she said, “Who wrote it?”
“I did,” Bernelle said.
Zaqary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Romania, Moldova, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work in Minneapolis. They have previously been published in 101 Words, Shady Grove Literary, and Warp10Lit.