This poem was created as part of a trauma exercise to process an event you can read about in my post “On Conflict, Pain, & Composting.” The image is a modified version of an etching from the 1685 edition of “Martyrs Mirror.” In the original, the persecuted Anabaptist Dirk Willems is turning back to save a guard who has fallen through the ice while chasing Willems after his escape from prison.
“Do you think that I am a false teacher?”
I asked the man at the front.
Before you answer,
let me remind you that
this accusation led
to the burning and drowning
of our ancestors.
Hands tied and
burned at the stake.
Stones hung from the necks
of apostate bodies undergoing fatal baptisms,
while orthodox crowds
watch safely from the sidelines.
A few lives lost
is the traditional cost
of cleansing and purifying the church.
He made his way to the front
and hunkered down behind the podium.
Digging in to brace the weight
of upholding the official position
he looked at me and said,
“Yes. Yes I do.”
The verdict delivered
a blow to the body
and she let out a collective gasp.
My equilibrium thrown,
I stumbled back to my seat in a daze.
The label “false teacher” waved over me
like stars orbiting around
my throbbing heretical head.
I struggled for air.
Had the wind been knocked out of me,
or had the Spirit withdrawn from the room
repulsed by such violence
in her sanctuary?
drowned in a morass of anger, shock, and confusion,
I looked up at the mass of spectators
watching helplessly from the shore.
The religious leaders
turned their face away
from my now dealt-with body
and continued to impose bylaw and order –
sold out to their sacralized death-dealing duty.