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Audio: Read by the author.

 

The Anchoress
___ Lower Europe, Fourteenth Century
___ Translations

 

note: The anchoritic life is one of the earliest forms of Christian seclusion. An anchoress lived in an enclosed cell, an “anchorhold,” attached to a church. She had one small window through which to speak to townspeople coming to her for guidance. She also had what was called a “squint,” a crack through which she could see the mass take place inside of the church. Her daily life resembled a prayerful funeral rite. She has withdrawn and chosen a form of death, which, in the eyes of the church, transformed her into a living saint. Bracketed portions represent redaction or textual damage.

II.

Once, a woman walked down the hill toward the anchorhold, her whole body barnacled with what she could not say. Is it more body? she asked through the little window. She had heard of the church’s garden of healing almond, aloe, anise, cornsilk. She said she could not bear the thought that this earthly body might rise again. I cannot believe it occurred for our Lord, she said. I told her not to […]. It was the age of great mortality. She had walked from the village with what looked like burrs on the undersides of her feet. I want to say […] not at all concerning the flesh, and witness to this are the words of James the brother, the contradictions of […] this manifold silence. Yet I cannot, so she walks away, growing small and ever smaller through my window. And unhealed.

V.

One night in particular I dreamt I stole from the isolate into the forest. In a vision I’d seen a tent of sticks and linden in which burned an amber light that was our Lord’s voice saying there was more I wished to say before […] and correction must […]. I took the danger at its word, setting into the woods filled with blister, bandit fire […] once an arrow. So many shed by war and wasting then. First my vow, then a departure, which made of me […] the way of God to go against Him just how a silversmith takes a piece of hollowware, fills it with hot metal, leaves behind swage blocks and hammer, and pours silver over a sapling found dead one day past, simply to preserve a beauty in the horror-woods. And so I left the cell for the linden of my vision, but it was not there as it had appeared to me—all I felt was peril and very far from the promises and […] no interspersing God. Then, not from the linden but from the terror, I heard the Lord depart these words: […] Not for, but because. I was tortured by […] I meant to […] And that was all. An unlocking silence fell over the trees, and I embarked out of dream to my cell in which I wrote swiftly this letter to you, who remain […] your own terror.

VII.

If one comes to you saying God said or God speaks to me in secret, tread upon such words as a moth treads possible prey—an investigating carnivore who will devour what, for him to live, must be killed. Does God speak now, to us of the earth? I beg this into my own vertebrae. I whisper to my brothers and sisters who say God has instructed them to take up hatchet in battle and hand to infant: be not assured.

 

 


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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