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Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist's first collection of poems, Granted, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Cathars Etc.” is from her second collection, Incarnadine, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2013. She teaches at Lewis & Clark College and lives in Portland, Oregon.

The Cathars Etc.

loved the spirit most
so to remind them of the ways of the flesh,
those of the old god

took one hundred prisoners and cut off
each nose
each pair of lips

and scooped out each eye

until just one eye on one man was left
to lead them home.

People did that, I say to myself,

a human hand lopping at a man's nose
over and over with a dull blade

that could not then slice
the lips clean
but like an old can opener, pushed
into skin, sawed
the soft edges, working each lip

slowly off as
both men heavily, intimately
breathed.

My brave believer, in my private re-enactments,
you are one of them.  

I pick up in the aftermath where you're being led
by rope
by the one with the one good eye.

I'm one of the women at the edge of the hill
watching you stagger magnificently,
unsteadily back.

All your faces are tender with holes
starting to darken and scab
and I don't understand how you could
believe in anything that much
that is not me.

The man with the eye pulls you
forward. You're in the square now.
The women are hysterical,
the men are making terrible sounds
from unclosable mouths.

And I don't know if I can do it, if I can touch
a lipless face that might
lean down, instinctively,
to try to kiss me.

White rays are falling through the clouds.
You are holding that imbecile rope.
You are waiting to be claimed.

What do I love more than this
image of myself?

There I am in the square walking toward you
calling you out by name.

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