Villanelles & Maypoles

Easter was my favorite holiday when I was little, mostly because I have always been drawn to pastels. My favorite thing was probably my special Easter socks. One of my friend’s moms gave each of the girls in Sunday school a special pair of white Easter socks. She had sewn pretty dangling translucent beads to the openings of the socks, and it was a very personal thing. She chose a different color pattern of beads to use for each of us. I remember in particular that my friend Mary got blue beads. The woman, for some unknown reason, made my socks with multiple colors of beads. Pink, purple, blue…I don’t remember all the colors. But I loved those socks. Looking back, I think it’s really cool that she felt that this especially colorful pattern suited me. I mean, she obviously made conscious decisions when beading our socks, and she must have seen me as a very colorful little girl. My childhood is dominated by colors. Of all things, colors stand out the most in my memories. For this reason, the fact that my socks were the most colorful signifies a lot for me.

I took a poetry workshop class last spring, and we had to write a villanelle. I really appreciated that the class centered around closed-form poetry, because the different forms help direct your writing in interesting ways. I wrote this poem thinking about myself as a little girl and the weird otherworldly wonder of springtime.

Nightmares on a Cross-Stitched Canvas                                            

We danced around the Maypole, drenched in dew;

A needle formed my body out of thread,

With cross-stitched eyes of nightmare baby blue.

____________________________________________________

I dreamt of kissing him to catch his flu

In hopes that soon our corpses would be wed

While dancing ‘round the Maypole, drenched in dew.

__________________________________________________

He took me to the woods and claimed he knew

The wolves and monsters, witches who had said

Their favorite shade of death was baby blue.

___________________________________________________

He bludgeoned me with my new Easter shoe

And giggled as my lips and nostrils bled.

We danced around the Maypole, drenched in dew.

_____________________________________________________

I drowned him in a pot of boiling stew,

But first I stabbed his guts and bashed his head,

Then wept with cross-stitched eyes of baby blue.

______________________________________________________

I tried to mend him up with sticky glue,

But still, he looked so gruesome lying dead;

I burned him on the Maypole, drenched in dew,

And ripped my eyes out, nightmare baby blue.

So, I don’t think that anyone in my poetry class got this poem. One girl thought that it solely contained Tim Burton references, but it contained zero (no pun intended). Maybe it will resonate with someone on the internet. The images are probably too specific to my childhood. Whenever I stayed at my grandparents’ house, I slept in a room that had a cross-stitched picture of girls dancing around a Maypole. I loved all the colors in it, and would study it for hours. Other images from my childhood include Easter shoes and dewy grass. I spent a lot of time playing on wild wet grass in the countryside.

At the time when I had to write this poem, I was studying William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. The most striking section of the work detailed the story of “Mr. Morton.” It’s a pretty surreal anecdote that stood out from the rest of the text. In summary, the pilgrims were trying to establish a strong Christian community in order for survival; this deviant Mr. Morton, described as the “lord of misrule” who “maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism,” formed a small cult (for lack of a better word) that revolved around drinking and dancing. The cult lived on a place called Mount Wollaston, but they renamed it Merrymount. The strangest thing about this community was the maypole, which became a symbol of their paganism and rebellion. Stranger still, Mr. Morton used the maypole as an instrument of humiliation, composing rhymes to scandalize people and affixing victims to the “idle or idol maypole.” His antagonism knew no boundaries, which resulted in the cult’s dismemberment.

Something about this story seems like a fable to me because of how rich the imagery is, from the maypole to the “furies” to the fact that this all happened on a “mount.” Everything was so visible, so palpable. All of the senses, including the spiritual, supernatural ones, were captured in this obscure incident.

I’ll never forget this excerpt, which is so beautiful and chilling:

They also set up a maypole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, like so many fairies, or furies rather…instead of calling it Mount Wollaston, they call it Merrymount, as if this jollity would have lasted forever.

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