Bayeux (fem. pl.)

I spent the 2016 D-Day commemoration weekend in Bayeux, Normandy, walking the length of the Tapestry and visiting the landing beaches and watching the parade roll past. This odd little suite of poems was the result. 

the liberators

They rode in on the backs of iron women, who
birthed their false bravado into
mud and terror, to see them again only
when they were bloodied, loud with pain or silent
beyond it.

They named the trucks after women, scrawling
Rosemary across windscreens and thinking only
that they rode them, never
that they were borne.

 

the embroiderers

we were three amongst 626, or more if you counted
the dogs and horses, the trees, the ships – all of those
outnumbered us resoundingly. Still, two of us had names and one
a story that survives: not bad,
you might say. We were Queen Edith, consort widowed, deathbed adjacent,
face unreadable. We were Aelfgyva, smiling?
at her certain cleric, but why she is there you do not know,
and we were a mother fleeing fire or perhaps
being devoured by it.

were we only three because those three said
all you thought to say? After all,
after 1000 years,
what would you add to
wife, mother, victim, infuriating mystery
(whore? witch? spy?)

except that you have not counted the stitches, in which we are
legion
we are pinprick and strand, we you
cannot see, we who
wove you into history

 

#weareallAelfgyva

“…we need to account for the prominent position given this woman.”
J.B. McNulty, “The Lady Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry”, Speculum, 55 (1980): p. 666

we need to account

there are almost as many theories as there are men, embroidered
through academia. You are 230 feet of
furrowed brow, earnest focus, perhaps in your weaker moments
seeing yourself in deerstalker and tweed examining clues, for
the Mystery Must Be Solved.

Three woman. The other two we know their purpose: one is flesh and
tears, written into noble books, reassuringly triangulated
between husband-king, brother-king and father-earl.

The second is a symbol, the bearer of children and of
Fear, running from the fires of war, the furious march
to victory. She is the sacrifice which
must be made; she serves her purpose.

What is your
purpose
Aelfgyva? You whose name we are forced to know but whose usefulness
we cannot define

for the prominent position given

who says we didn’t write her in? we silver-tipped magicians, heads bent
over tiny weapons making gorgeous battle on your
glorious war.

who says she received and did not take: her hands are
after all outstretched (you assumed
in supplication or benediction)? Between sinner and saint there is always
saviour

this woman.

The foolproof way to find her is to look for
the penis, you can’t miss that. There is no body
of work devoted to pinpointing his identity, the little man
with the articulate genitalia because when you’re
one of 623 it seems you get to keep your privacy even when
you’re naked in public.

Look heavenward from him to her, the jewel
around which the trinity rotates: consort-victim-mystery,
Queen-pauper-other; wife-mother-Aelfgyva.

Look carefully, does she bless or beg? Does she smile and if so
is it in welcome or placation? Does he
caress or strike?

Or is the answer
All of the above? Aelfgyva: active verb, plural noun,
infinity to the power of woman

You thought there were three and that three would be
enough and despite yourself you were
right.

 

the reenactors

each year, the iron women come back to Bayeux,
still bearing, filled now with
playactors who lean out of windows,
fully committed to their roles, and invite me
to climb on board, darlin’
and I, fully committed to mine,
choose not to spit back:
I am not your spoil of war

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