A Species of Martyrdom:
The Huronia Series

by James Thomas Stevens

Jean de Brébeuf (d. March 16, 1649)
St. Ignace, Ontario

To kiss the stake
one's bound to

fall to erotic postures.

And isn't this like
the burning below the navel?
A fiery belt of pitch.

I recognize in it
a hatchet-headed collar

and a molten red rising
from the pitcher of your throat.

Like a ceremony of scalding
to know the first
little death
of the one beside you,

that bound hands don't
by necessity
mean prayer.

Gabriel Lalemant (d. March 17, 1649)
St. Ignace, Ontario

And the larger death you chose

to stay
the entire course.

Unsuspecting of outliving.

Yes, for the long haul.

But when the other head droops
like a chrysanthemum
on a catafalque,
you're left to endure
the song of other birds,

soothed only by the painful prick
of your knees
on the forest floor.

Anthony Daniel (d. July 4, 1648)
Ihonatiria Mission, Ontario

Whatever you imagined
in the air,

invisible and without body
no worse than what was.

Entering like a span of sparrows,
the dove
aligned with the virgin's loins.

And the news is clear.

That this body would be flung
into the fires
of its mission,

to love the unlovable
and bring them home.

René Goupil (d. September 23, 1642)
Andagaron, New York

You made the sign
and how human it suddenly felt
when the last nail slipped
from your finger,
the last finger gnawed
from its knuckle.

He took your broken
face in hand

applying words
to wounds,

He hath no form nor comeliness …

When they hatcheted
your fine head aflame
with god,
he weighted you under

And when they dragged you
to mulch
in the moldering leaves,

he sought your skull
and lifting it to his lips,
the tiny rattle of ecstasy.

Jean de Lalande (d. October 19, 1646)
Ossernenon, New York

Now I tender my congratulations
because I've offered once (or twice)
to be that man.

But you made it to the end
and still
by his side,

suffered blows
and stinging limbs.

I wanted
to see someone through

but in the end
when their heads fell like berries
from rain swollen stakes,
I had already been retired from
those passionless fields,
farmed out to another
before the fall.

Isaac Jogues (d. October 18, 1646)
Ossernenon, New York

So often the wounds
make life
canonically impossible,

but granted privilege
to perform
despite them,

you were loved doubly -

two coveting your side in death.

And when stripped
of your thumb
like a green branch drawn
and twisted
from its unyielding skin,

Patience was your physician.

Your head beside his,
on the palisade not the pillow,
your own pale arms and legs
spin pinwheel
down the river.

Noël Chabanel (d. December 8, 1649)
Nottawasaga River, Ontario

Grapes frozen beneath a blanket
of snow along the bay.

No heavy juice dripping
on the soil of
your Huron vineyard.

Oh bloodless martyr in the shadow of martyrdom.

No Huron trickles
from your heavy french tongue.

And your martyrdom, not due to death,
but the sentence of living
a life so indelicate.

Removed from missions
so fertile in palms and crowns,
till mercifully the apostate
crushed your sweet grape to wine.

Scarlet stains on the iceflow
fade to orange.

The sweetest berry saved till last.

Charles Garnier (d. December 7, 1649)
St. Jean Village, Ontario

Lamb to the lion,
your frail frame
miraculously resisting.

How awesome the strength of the tongue
to trick them to fraternity.

No stopping your scuttling,
your hastening toward the stake
to baptize and exhort.

But when the Tobacco fell
in rows around you
and a heat bird flew
through your shoulder,

how short-lived

A blow to very act of charity.

© 2004 James Thomas Stevens

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