hildegard von bingend

at seven years

Words fall into you no one else hears.
Like picking glass from a wound
you try to reclaim them. For this
they have cut off your long hair,
hacked a hole in the cobblestone cell
just big enough for you to enter through.
They promise that if you are enclosed
with Christ you will be purified
for your loss. The choir is withdrawing.
Your sisters wave and smile.

Now, through the stout walls
you hear, faintly, the hollow clop
of the corn chandler’s horse,
monks commence their vespers’ chant.
In the hermitage, the cellerar
prepares bread and beans.

You have only a name.
Say it into the dark air Hildegard.
Press to the farthest reaches of yourself,
deep into your heart’s vault–
tenth child: tithe–
while in the village, the plowman
dances home in the strange light of evening,
the tinker spreads his arms beneath
a black alder, and the milkmaiden,
humming her childhood,
hangs up her empty pail.