Wendy Scott Paff

Water and Stone*

God’s hand falls heavy
against my neck. Searing
light unhinges my temples.
Sapphire explodes. I am blinded.
My stomach empties. Limbs melt.

Wings of smoke. Women of stars
flame above the beauty of the fields
shine in the waters
burn in the sun and moon
the wheel of eternity.

My head is fire. I am consumed.
The highest blessing is found in female form.
The fountain of clearest water
flows from the most powerful stone
The weight of God presses me to pallet,

paralyzed. Colored lights pulse
in the saturated air. God speaks
the torn, triumphant Word.
I am a feather on the breath of God
upheld by the one who burns.

*Italicized text is from the writings of Hildegard of Bingen


I stand before you not blushing.
Your gaze direct as an eagle’s.

My flesh has known delight
grasslands touched by dew.

I glow with sweat.
Your finger came forth.

You are the tides, the moon.
We shine in the waters

Delectable springs
bring forth these pearls.

Compassed by your embraces
I flame with you above the fields.

You choose this enclosure.
Rest in me. I rest in you.

Smoke and perfume rise
as the clouds course like sapphires

Sweet the sounds, in my breast
I burn in the sun and the stars.

Pour your heavenly potion into me.
The draught which courses with delightful spices.

Clasped in your fire, your holy body.
You are the mount and the valley.

A door long shut has opened.
Unclouded, I stand before you.

*The italicized text is from the writings of Hildegard of Bingen

Sibyl of the Rhine Remembers Her Childhood*

My fingers slid parchment, ink of memory
the cleric’s book. I read illuminations
found the shining lady, gold
and blue, surrounded by stars.

Desolate on bread and cheese, my sister imagined,
cried. I saw book upon book, any
every library, narrow hall, walled garden
hidden in a secluded place intoxicated
with the aroma of flowers reaching forth to God
through inked lattices of the saints.

From our quarters we heard church
through brick, its opening enough
for meals, books, seeds. Smallness, a cell,
fosters the thought rotated, thought pollinated
hybrid, pruned. Visions in wild ecstatic bloom.
This living tomb a gate to the hold still within.

Packed dirt and sun. The cell stank
especially when my tutor fasted. Jutta fasted a lot.
I asked for seeds and sprigs: lavender, yarrow, thyme,
sweet flag, flax, chamomile and Mary’s rose.
I knew the herbs but not how to use, nor how to grow.
Breaking that dirt my first learning.

*Sibyl of the Rhine was a nickname for Hildegard of Bingen

What My Father Knew

A black tide plunges you into the North Atlantic.
The unsinkable ship has. You have very little time.
Cutting melanoma — removing shrapnel.
Your doctor, you, notice a tiny black spot
immediately removed. You might win the lottery,
become friends with your dermatologist
in forever after visits. In nodular melanoma,
the whole invading army arrives at once
growing in and down, takes no prisoners
a trillion cellular soldiers in black masks
on black horses laying waste wherever they travel.
A horde thunders down every hill into villages:
intestines, lungs, liver, brain.
Silent pirates cruising every lymphatic pathway
swarming every barricade, burning all
like every mythic foe: shades, the undead,
soldiers who feel no pain. Like my father,
a doctor, you could look at your abdomen
know: You lost the lottery.
Go to the head of the line.

Three Weeks from Diagnosis to End

The phone rang and a stranger’s voice swallowed the sun. Darkness moved in a screaming buzz. Flying hands. Emerald locusts everywhere, enraged. Devoured each other, locusts on top of locusts. Thrumming fog of their transparent wings louder than gunfire, louder than missiles. The world caught fire. I choked on black smoke, unable to cough. Within the smoke, green-black masses moved. Locusts covered windows, cars, skittered against my arms, tangled in my hair. My feet cold, wet. Black water rushing down every hill. Rose in basements, streets. Locusts screamed as they drowned, finger length wings screeching until their bodies turned, wings down, legs waving for hours. Murky water crept from low-lying puddles into the guest room, the refrigerator, corner of the dining room, into the frames of family pictures, poured from my taps. Men appeared in suits, in scrubs, with forms, needing me to choose things—shoes, hymns, DNR. None of them noticed the black water, flames, locusts. They never got wet. They sent bills, and the black water rose, filled with screaming.

My book of poems, Soon I Will Build an Ark, was published by Main Street Rag. My poems have appeared in Harpur Palate, Paterson, Potomac, Gravel, and Fourth River, among others. I have an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. I taught creative writing and composition for thirteen years.


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