St. Perpetua

St. Perpetua, 35" x 60," Oil on Panel, by Melissa Carmon

St. Perpetua, 35" x 60," Oil on Panel, by Melissa Carmon

ST. PERPETUA


Perpetua
who dares
to speak for you

You, who speak
for yourself, not just with pen
but also with your own blood

Perpetua, what had become of your husband
was he indifferent, or
opposed to you— embarrassed, or distanced? 
Or had he been taken from the world, untimely
leaving his rich, beautiful, pregnant wife
behind?

Perpetua you stood alone
a blaze of glory
wreathing your heart
the unearthly fire
which never dies

The world is silent
before such a woman

They grey hyena
the roaring lion
strung to extremes
by an animal hunger
the slobber of a brown
rolled lip, heavy
four-legged mountainous beast
the polished horns of a mad cow
or the madness of a whole empire, 
its emperor placid
clothed in purple
accented in gold

Perpetua 
in such times you found
not merely mute action
but you fashioned words

No wonder
as you were led to the field,
the crowds could not bear
to look at you

What man could face the gaze
of a woman who had already 
overcome everything
honors friends decorum fathers
pain blood terror imprisonment
her own soul
and the tender
irresistible tug
of a newborn son

Perpetua
gold laurels could not court you
the crowds and their praises could not seduce you
nor the silent unspoken pressures of friends

Perpetua of dreams 
the waking vision
that comes when dawn
is still a hope and a memory

We watched your
dignity 
with admiration 
not least, for unswerving follow-through

Emperors are a continual problem
Also sometimes fathers, selfishly, 
but Perpetua, you left us open-mouthed

As you strode across the dust
amid the mixture of roars
and shouts and casual 
bloodthirsty onlookers
who came to gorge themselves on 
your humanity
you strode across the dust

to do battle
to set fire

to meet your 
True Love

 

Historical Background: Viba Perpetua (Born ? - 203 C.E.) was a Roman noblewoman, who was killed in the arena at about age 22.  She was educated and literate, and she wrote the account of her arrest and her experience up until she was led to the arena.  Writings by women of this era are exceedingly rare, and Perpetua's account is notable as a work of autobiographical literature, written by a woman with her own hand.  She was nursing a young son at the time she was taken to prison.  It was said that her face was so radiant when she entered the arena that none could look at her.  She is always mentioned in conjunction with her friend, St. Felicitas, who was her slave, but their friendship transcended class boundaries.  Its. Perpetua and Felicitas were killed together, and they continued to remembered together on a shared day of commemoration. 

Melissa Carmon