Magdaléna Sketches ~ L'assemblage by Michael Douglas Jones ©2019
In the war before this war, laid low by buck and ball, I was dying, full of fever, caught up in the thornthick of a black locust hedgerow, and hopeless. Magdaléna cut my clothes from the tangle, and wagoned me back to the cottage of the shroud seamstress, to tend my wounds. That is what she tells me; she saved me, I am hers. She is the seamstress; I am her soldier, and she decides my final fight.
Above the treeline on the west ridge, the righteous gather stones to atone for original sin, bringing that burden down into the valley, stacking cairn rings around the scaffold of alder, elm, and ash lashed looptight above the deep well outside the cottage of the shroud seamstress. Sewn inside each shroud, those sinner stones sink hope in the lake of our losses.
The cottage of Magdaléna is unlike those on every street and lane; the dark door set back in shadow from the cobblestone, back from the trade signs hung above the doors of merchants and craftsmen, the dark door that opens to the curious, and the cautious, the prosperous, and the poor of pocket. Her sketches stack, tacked, just inside that door; self portraits of the temptress that she is.
As eyes adjust to the windowless room, the candlelit corners contain amber bottles with soot shaded corks, little and large vessels filled with stout, and laudanum, absinthe, and arsenic, amid crumbling ancient pages of tantric embrace, mysterious and useful arts, india ink symbols of curses and cures in chain locked volumes of once ready recipes, no longer necessary; the measures are in her soul, if Magdaléna has one; she will not say. My guess is that when necessary, she seduces one, coaxes one, as she stole mine.
At dayend, Magdaléna says I have earned my ale, and as I drift into sleep, or stupor, she sings softly, as she slowly piles fire warmed riverstones on my chest, sewing a shroud around me, surrounding me in burlap and linen, preparing me for the deepest sleep. Her long, curved, sailmaker’s handneedle, with coarse thread of horsehair and candle wax moves through skin and linen with the rhythm of her voice; the pain of black and blue all the more precious with her whisper.
Down the ridge, at the edge of the coppiced oak grove, Pensée carries her broken bone bag, gathering kindling twigs and deadwood for the fire; the only practical one among us. She was once my muse, now she stays in the shadows, beyond the tallow lamps. Still, she watches over me, and may save me from the lake tonight, if only for another day, when I can make my way home again from the war before this war.