by Madeline Artenberg

For Sister Dianna Ortiz,
Guatemala, 1989

Imagine being that nun,
the one who got burnt with cigarettes
one-hundred-eleven times.
Do your eyes trace the path
of a cigarette landing in random
patterns or spelling in blisters
on your skin the word puta?

Do you hold your breath
or release it into the pain?
Your torturers turn minutes
into days as foreplay—
they thrust church candles into you.
Puta en una capucha,

whore in a habit,
they spit,
batter you with their flesh.
You feel their organs grow to the size
of the wooden cross on which they nailed Jesus.
Is He testing you
as you testify to your love of Him?
Imagine they now hang you above
a local woman who’s been bound;
the one who helped you
in church reading class.
They force into your fists a small machete,
press their hands down on yours to guide
the weapon across the woman’s chest—
you’ve cut off her breasts—
you are shaking—the cut is ragged.
Or would you prefer in this scenario to be
the rapists?
Or their Director?
Or the other woman?
Or Jesus?
Or His Father?

Sundays at the Library with Father
Stacks of fiction hug you on both sides.
Past your right shoulder,
the French-inspired Memorial Arch
rises out of the Grand Army Plaza.
Your left thumb rubs the title
waiting in your jacket pocket
while you skip through some book
on the table by Sholom Aleichem or Sholem Asch.
Later at home, I search in the dirty clothes hamper
for your copy of Mr. Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.

While you nap, I lock the bathroom door,
trace your finger’s trail
past long-haired, long-legged women.
I exhale on the pages
so my breath will fly in your face
when you crack the spine.

Gospel of Mary Magdalene

I Mary Magdalene opened my heart to the Lord, 
allowed His son Jesus to part my soiled loins.
His voice entered me, shook my breasts 
rumbled through my body.  Inside,
He faced seven incubi and cast them out, 
demons that ate at me every day:
The first demon was defeat,
the second, despair, the third, worthlessness,
fourth, fearfulness, fifth, inferiority, 
sixth, powerlessness, seventh, shame.
On the walls of my womb 
Jesus painted His name 
and the words You are saved and I was.
In return, He wrote the gospel inside my cave
said it is yours to give 
as you have given me your soul and body to save.

Yet, you gentlemen surround me 
with your priapic announcements,
hiss that the folds of skin between my legs
must be hiding sin,
that my woman's body holds secrets, 
that God must be open to all,
that I cannot possibly teach you. 
Yet, I was given tongue and lips 
with which to spread His truth.

My womb is a vessel that holds His special words 
as I held His sacred feet and washed them with my hair.
Jesus' lessons are written in my secret place. 
He has commanded that I lay myself open 
for you to take the gospel from me.  
Enter and you will read what He has writ,
What is hidden from you, I will proclaim to you.

Yet, you gentlemen would rather accept the penitents
who proclaim their pain is most holy penance
for sins against His son, 
rasping their skin 
until boundary between body and heavenly air melts.
If blessed is the scourged blood of the penitents,
bless-ed is my moon-blood poured forth each month,
bless-ed is the dying and resurrection I host each month.

Let the Lord flow through each of us 
like tributaries joining at one source.
My path to Him is through the tingling in my nipples
twitching of my feet.
I allow Him to enter me, rock my hips
let His words pour forth in ecstatic celebration.
Each time I tremble, 
more truths appear upon my womb,
my breath comes faster as fast as my lungs will pump
I am in a hurry to receive the Lord
angels fly away with my thoughts
nothing separates me from Him and I am come to Heaven 
in liquid moan and yell 
Oh Jesus Oh God Yes Yes Oh Yes

I gave birth to the gospel 
as The Virgin gave birth to His son.
On the side of God, Mother Mary sat.
At His feet I sat and bore witness.
He says unto both of us,
Reveal what is hidden deep inside.
He says unto you, His faithful followers, 
What is hidden deep inside will save you.
I say unto you, take my gospel.  
What is hidden from you
I will proclaim to you.
We are resurrected.


© 2005 Madeline Artenberg

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