Poem: Alms for Anne

They say he has sent me the almoner –
now there’s a pretty thought.
Perhaps my sovereign lord will sleep better
in his goose down this night,
that he has sent alms to his slack-wombed witch.

I hear today that we were never wed
though I should like to know how adultery’s sense
can have burgled those nights we spent
rich and gold as coins in a purse
of silk and music, if we are now plundered of our marriage.

We made child but the child was not full.
We lit a fire of Elizabeth but she did not slake him.
Mark, he will count his wives on the fingers of my hand
and make sport of my beauty and twist me into
a blameful thing, though I did nought but love him.

Such deaths will he make with us, his puppets in gold cloth –
perhaps he will make red standards of us! –
but I am such a small thing, no real blood in me,
such small hands, an empty woman, a neck so small to wring
they must call their finest blades from France.

Thunder snores now in the cavern of his chest.
I called it friend once; it drowned his heart’s beat,
until I found he had none at all. Just the fat of conscience, for
he has sent me the almoner, to salve the bitter stench of this straw bed
and hide the wounded trap of law where I am kept. I can only laugh
on the night before I die, that my lord may live to love on.

Rae Howells

This poem was shortlisted in the Arvon International Poetry Competition and published in the winners’ anthology.

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