I wanted to write about a saint who was not only a model of virtue but also fully human. It seemed a shame to me that in order to be good enough, saints had to renounce the things that make life worth living. So this poem is about a saint with a sex life.


It is written in the book of saints that Our Lady
appeared to me in a waterfall near Combret
and that through me she fed the hungry of that town.
No one however speaks of the child I bore
by the priest at Millau where I continued my work.
I wish you to know how first I guided his hands.
I was a torrent he rode like a raft, I surged
beneath him and leapt at last, speechless,
like a writhing fish. This too should be recorded

but my passions are of course eclipsed
by the table I kept for the poor: meat and bread,
sustenance for the sick and the outcast.
God was bountiful. As my belly swelled
I held fast to the work: carrying food to the cellars
where beggars scuttled like rats,
to the caves near the river where madmen lived.
My pale unworldly looks they took for innocence

but I was fruitful. By the river
I cried to Our Lady to deliver me;
I split like a damson and yielded a son,
lay all night with him pressed to my shivering.
In the morning, I wrapped him in rags and left him
at the cave’s mouth, where I knew he’d be found
and brought to me as an orphan.

Set down in your book that this woman of Christ
heard too the Word of the flesh.
Tell how the milk sprang from my breasts,
how the poor smiled at my singing
as I put warm loaves before them.

from Hard Water (Jonathan Cape, 2003), copyright © Jean Sprackland 2003, used by permission of the author and The Random House Group Ltd.

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