Isolde Alone

I never wished to be martyred
for the cause of love,
dressed in the vestments of tragedy,
pinned on a crepe-covered
pedestal for suicidal,
star-crossed pairs—
when indeed my passions were naught
but artifice, the legend
a staged event, a drug-
induced hallucination.

Twice I held your mortal
fate in my white hands.
I could have let you writhe
your way to death,
could have fed your
murderous remains
to Irish Sea monsters,
who crave the tang of Cornish
blood. Instead I soothed
your wounds, each tonic portending
Brangien’s mistake.

I should have been on watch
for sparrows seeking morsels
of my mane—I would have wrapped
it tight in scarves of mourning,
shielding golden glimmers from
avian beaks and claws,
or shaved my head and burned
my vanity, this
disaster’s catalyst.
Now the problem’s solved:
a breadknife returned
the cursed strands to straw.
Men died by dragon’s breath
for the chance to brush my hair
back from my face and kiss
in troth the mouth exposed.
They who saw me now
would never recognize
their prize in her peasant mop.

This is my sometime lover’s
hell, not mine,
my fate compounded by
a twisted tongue resounding
in my ears. My voice dictates
I’m given linen like
the other fallen ones,
forced to drag the shrouds
along the pleated boards
until the water dyes
the pale flax red.

If I could conjure up
the times we pressed together,
lip to wanting lip,
I might be soothed somewhat,
might perhaps endure
the raw flesh of my palms.
But now the potion’s fled
my blood; I fail to recall
the brush of fingertips
against my blushing cheek.
For Mother made an error
when she mixed my wedding-draught:
the magic ceased when breath did.
As soon as I collapsed
upon your silent chest
I lost your pull on my hand
and my heart. Should your shade
pass by sometime,
I doubt I could tell you apart
from the other fellows damned.

That fickle wine removed
my agency and paired
me with my husband’s kin,
my uncle’s slayer; surely
I’d have picked a less
offensive paramour.
I have more wit than that.
But only now, as my earthly
form shrivels and fades,
does my mind grow sharp
with independent thoughts.

I might have been forgotten.
I might have been dull,
a steadfast wife to Mark
and nothing more, but at least
I’d still harbor the hope
that someday, a genuine
desire would fuel my pulse.
Now I dream of romance
untainted by illusion,
for flirtation that swells to smitten
of its own accord. For that
I’d have dwelled with lepers,
slept on frozen leaves,
burned alive upon the pyre,
given everything.

Our names are forever entwined.
Our fingers, however, are not.
Between life with him, and death with you,
I would have chosen life.

Spring 2005