In her own words...

"Life of Crime: St. Julien le Pauvre"


In awe and transport what pregnant queen would not
hold dear the augur's words, "Your son will be a saint"?
She told no one.

The boy galloped his horse beside his father.
"Some day you will be king." Kneeling on Sunday
after Sunday in chapel,

watching the mouse by his hole in the wall
and bored, bored; idly, with his little sword
he severed its nose

and the drop of blood was a drunken ocean, red
without anger, red without even lust, a blindness
of dawn to scarlet

sunset, a birth of death spiraling down
with the castle's doves to moat and muck, a kind
of childish prologue

to the man's arrows, darts, knives, javelins aimed
at everything that moved and would move no more
in forest and desert.

What breathlessness, what sluicing ecstasy
in the red flowing from feather from fur from skin
from eye socket!

Did he taste the red salt in his own red gullet?
Did the martyred beast and plummeted bird ravish
his austere will?

Each time, oh, each time with each convulsion
it was as if he slavered like a Cerberus obeying
an implacable master

of carnage in The Peaceable Kingdom, felled
one by one with their death throes, their agonies.
Until the black stag,

an arrow quivering between his eyes, cried out:
"Accursed one. You will murder your mother
and your father."

Shaken, trembling a little he fled, traveled far.
Such a curse was not to be taken lightly
even by an assassin

though for a time slaughter was human: a needful
expedient to fulfill the promise of kingship,
and long enough

for the old blood-craze to stain the way into
the last prophecy: one of those bedroom spasms
of domestic confusion.

From pink-nosed mouse to murder of mother
and father, a tapestry of death strewn in between,
was far enough

in depravity to confirm not royal grandeur
but time for heavenly judgment. He reversed
the situation

by dressing for holiness. Ah, it is too bad, Flaubert,
even in deadpan irony, that you should speak
of penitence,

lampoon the cowl. And you, ]ulien, your travesty
of grace — another prideful posture, though bloodless
this time;

or more truly a ploy — your show of tears, your
eyes revulsed, your sores your filth your empty
begging bowl.

Warm the leper. Embrace him, mouth to mouth.
Now reveal the deal, the plea bargain you made
with God.



About this work

"Life of Crime: St. Julien le Pauvre" was first published as “A Life of Crime: St. Julien l’Hospitalier” in Partisan Review, Vol. 69, no. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 235-236.  It is also included in Dorothea Tanning's book, A Table of Content: Poems, New York: Graywolf Press, 2004, pp. 32-33, and may not be reprinted without the publisher's permission.