As I write this last letter, the sun dies in my shy hands.

My vowels and consonants carry my shame and cross.

Life is a tender transparency of my iridescent past:

I know I am among the dead, breathing sweet moss.

I had no choice in life. I had to marry my own ashes.

Silent I knelt down, I waited to end my frayed rope.

I was just sixteen when life did open a chaste door,

capturing my soul, isolating my virgin heart and hope.

But your hands lift up my mantle, covering me with stars,

showing me Pleiads and Orion: sacred moments, sinful rites.

I let you speak my name, I let you paint my holy body and cell

with different hues. Maybe God was hidden in those dark lights.

Your French words consecrated my impure days of glory

as I enshrined you in my naivety, an altar of blind pain.

My vows were seagulls flying, an unheeding red moon

bowing to the wind, baptizing clouds and even the rain.

Time froze my fingers, blamed my dirty heart.

There is no ecstasy in my prayers, only scandal.

You cold scales can only weigh your power(lessness)

as I sit here in this room and light my lonely candle.

Tomorrow I shall hold my heavy head high

while sorrow and anguish wrap me warm.

There must be a quiet heaven in this hell.

There must be an angel singing in the storm.

Karla Bardanza

*Soror Mariana Alcoforado (1640-1723) lived in Our Lady of the Conception Convent in Beja (Portugal). Around 1665 she met the Marquis de Chamilly who arrived in Portugal as part of a French contingent of troops who came to help in the Restoration campaigns. Seduced by the Marquis she wrote him five letters on his return to France.

During the years 1665-1667 Chamilly spent much of his time in and about Beja, and probably became acquainted with the Alcoforado family through Soror Mariana's brother, who was a soldier. Custom permitted those in religious orders to receive and entertain visitors, and Chamilly found it easy to get round the trustful nun. Before long their affair became known and caused a scandal, and Chamilly deserted Soror Mariana and returned to France. This resulted in Soror Mariana writing the letters

The letters first published in Paris in 1669 by Lavergne de Guilleragues were followed by successive editions. The intensity of the love, the scandal of the passion confessed by a nun who feels she has been abandoned by an officer, as well as the innovation created by the first epistolary novel certainly contributed to the success the work has seen since its publication.

After a life of rigid penance, accompanied by much suffering, Soror Mariana Alcoforado died, aged 83

This poem is my tribute to her.

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