There’s a sense in which we can think of any poem as unnervingly close to being a persona poem, if only because the “I” or implied “I” is a moving target, the facts and situation and context, too, simply a snapshot in time and not, as they may seem in a moment, immutable—though we recognize our psyche and our voice. But to consciously speak through the mask or imagined circumstance of another character, whether historical or mythical or invented, can be freeing, fun, liberating—also frightening. The way we speak, and what we allow ourselves to say, can move well beyond what we might give ourselves permission for in our “normal” voice, or persona. Certainly that was the case in the poem that appears here. What was very odd about writing it was that I had fallen into a sort of sarcastic, deeply ironic and confronting tone before doing research that revealed that these qualities were apparently true of Anne Boleyn (witness the epigraph, one of her last writings). What was more astounding was to learn about the facts of her initial entombment, which were so emblematic of the whole situation that I had to weave them into this poem.
Anne B to Henry 8
I have heard that the executioner is very good.
And I have a little neck.
I’ve seen the way you look at her across the room.
I’ve seen her raise her hand to touch her cheek; I’ve seen her blush.
I’ve seen those gray-green eyes, the skin below her neck, the undisguised surprise.
My dear, I know the signs.
I know your tendency will be to part to other quarters
while the deed is done, take pleasure in your lady’s love,
Here’s what I require of you:
while my head is bleeding, take me by the hair.
Take me to that bowling green that you and I have often walked
and sprinkle me across the grass like Christmas.
Roll my head across the lawn until it hits each pin.
Pick me up then, by the mouth— your fingers that so often slid
between my lips, once more made moist.
Look. Look at this face. This face.
Imagine then the sword has simply done what I myself have thought to do—
you know, my dear, that she and I have long been friends.
You do remember?
I’ll dress for you, as always, in my red below the fur.
I hear there’ll be no coffin—you’re so kind—but just a box that once held arrows
like the ones you gave me, with the bow that made such sound.
Fitting, I suppose—only too small, so please
take care to place my head into my hands
once you are done.
Previously published in Media Cake. as well as the White Bride (University of Tampa Press).
Sarah Maclay is the author of The White Bride (University of Tampa Press, ’08) and Whore (Tampa Review Prize for Poetry). Her poems, essays and reviews have appeared in The American Poetry Review, FIELD, Ploughshares, The Writers’ Chronicle, Ninth Letter, Swink, The Laurel Review, The Journal, lyric, Hotel Amerika and numerous other spots including Poetry International, where she serves as book review editor, and were selected for The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 to the Present (Scribner’s, 2008). She received a Special Mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXI. A visiting assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University, she currently lives in Venice, California.