St Rose of Lima’s Revenge

by Geraldine Clarkson

At a rough-backed hour, wound round with olive
light, the pink-cheeked would-be anchorite
slides past date palms and scarlet
trumpet lilies in the colonial garden, intent
on the far spinney, where wiry trees like acolytes
surround a simple hut her heart always skips to reach.

Holy time, before the porcelain-jowled suitors
(damn them!) begin to queue,
their arms and brows pale-as-the-dough
which Madre leaves in the sideways sun
to rise. Their insect-voices urgent and ‘mi-querido’-ing
as they bend low to moan her name.

Always always she is called back just when
hermano Sun peeks up to play, called back
along the manicured paths, the geometric beds.
Called back from the bosky place, cloaked in verde
and all alone with the Belovedexpected. Called in
by a maid as ‘Señor So-and-So is waiting (and his
father is so importante, pretty Rosita)’

She makes lace, and takes stupendous blooms
to market, to support the house, ‘though many in the city
are much worse-off, Mami’. Some of these she brings
to her room, to rinse and bind till nightfall. Then,
though drooping, keeps vigil, to cultivate that sweet edge
of encounter, and grow—oleander-like—glossy with blessing.

This siesta-time, she flits again—lizards skid
on scalding sand—down to the cool grotto, for an hour
in eucalyptus and blueberry, till, again, some
Rafael or Gregorio in the lobby, and oh, the slippery grasping
insistence when you are so spent and your legs and arms so limp
and the cushions in the parlour so soft and grateful.
Ah, but she’ll show them. She plucks two pods as she passes in

at the kitchen door, scores their seams, then draws moist flesh
and virgin seeds across her eyelids, and cheeks,
like a society lady’s brightener, and they begin
to smart and swell. ‘Ah, my Rosa at last!’ her mother turns,
then gasps, at Rosa’s eyes dancing and red, the perfect skin
puckering into pustules, fresh chilli juice dripping
at her fingertips. The suitors look, and look away. But then (covertly)
look again.