Poetry Journal

Issues / Volume 5 Issue 1 , July 2015


Baptism of Fire

Paula McKay

  See judges and priest: brushwood, straw 
  bramble, thorn, wood stacked at a pitch, 
  whatever would burn. The world turned 
  in patterns of fire. 
  Charge and denial. Torchlight and chain. 
  Stripped to her shift, head shaved, 
  Mistress Massey was not the first 
  nor last female burned for heresy. 
  An attempt made to strangle her beforehand, 
  but the rope broke. So fastened to the stake, 
  green branches slowly burning upwards, 
  she gave birth to a boy. 
  One eyewitness rushed through smoke, 
  leant across the pyre and saved the bloodied child. 
  The crowd, six deep, watched her mouth 
  open in a scream when her feet began to peel 
  in a wind-fed rapture of flames. 
  The Bailiff cried That child is born in sin!  
  grabbed it from the man 
  and threw it back into the fire. 

(Perotine Massey, condemned as a heretic & while tied to the stake, gave birth to a boy, burned in July 1556)