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Elizabeth Bathory was born on 7th August 1560 in the Kingdom of Hungary. At the age of fifteen she married Count Ferenc Nadasdy. The couple developed a taste for sexual torture and murder. When Count Nadasdy was killed in battle in 1607 Elizabeth's activities escalated. By the time of her arrest in 1610 she had killed (according to some estimates) over 650 virgin girls. Fears that a trial would have political repercussions led to an informal sentence, and she was walled into her own castle rooms. Those servants who had aided her were brutally executed. In 1614, at the age of 54, she was found dead amidst plates of untouched food.

Opera of Blood scheme

After her death the legend of the Blood Countess quickly grew. A myth developed that she bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth. She was soon a gothic horror icon and her hilltop fortress at Cachtice (alt: Csej), now in Slovakia, became a site of notoriety.

The extent and full details of Elizabeth Bathory's crimes remain contentious.

OPERA OF BLOOD began as a single poem 650 Virgins and grew, in a frenzy of writing akin to Elizabeth Bathory's thirst for blood, from this one donné into a book length series of interrelated verses exploring the hope for mankind's redemption in the cold, unfeeling, godless modern universe bequeathed by Nietzsche, the existentialists and most schools of twentieth century science, philosophy and art.

Using art historical references and science fiction elements, the sequence is presented here as both an extended poem and a commentary on the world we inhabit today. And its aim is to question, tell a story, inspire thought and entertain.

Alan O'Cain December 2008

PUNCTUATION NOTE: an empty set of brackets ( ) indicates a pause after which the following word is to be said with an out-hiss of breath.

#1 - 650 Virgins

I remember

The blood of every
One of you trickling
Over my girlish
Limbs and my maids
Gone to ash for washing

And I crumble now
Like Csej, see how
My skin resembles
Old stone

This fortress
Cannot fight
Against my
Final foe
Blowing in on its
Astral wind: banging
Doors to other
Moaning clatter:

"In this land
Carnage will
Continue three
two five years from
Now - Death will live on
With the eternal
Blossom-face of

#1 - 650 Virgins

Legend states Elizabeth Bathory killed as many as 650 virgins and bathed in their blood to maintain her youth. This poem draws on that myth, with Elizabeth Bathory walled into her own fortress at Csej facing the final judgement that might come with her death (her "final foe"), here postulated as an all-powerful cosmic force. In the final stanza that force speaks, projecting forward to the beginning of World War II when it is Death who has maintained his youth over centuries by his unending drive for destruction.

#2 - Puberty

Whose is the shadow?
Wing-folded bat-thing
Like the
Meat she
is ejecting
Onto the virgin pillow
Clamped between
Her knees.

She stares at
The candlelight
And notices she is
Dancing in the

And inside
She is birthing a
Monster -
Its teeth are
Tearing at her womb

Its silhouette
Is on the wall
Behind her,

#2 - Puberty

The adolescent Elizabeth Bathory is imagined facing the pain and shock of menstruation as she stares at candlelight, unaware of the bloody future ahead of her. She is literally "overshadowed" by a dark force. A theme of shadow is central to the artworks of Bacon and Munch. The poem deliberately draws on Munch's painting of the same title.

#3 - We might as well be extraordinary

Lying on the pavement in the sunlight
Very invigorating
I think the beauty in it is terribly elusive
Savage tensions and vacuous spaces
With the broken glass of the car
The unusualness of it
The way they lay and the blood
There's nobody more unnatural than I am myself
And all kinds of images crowd into you
Nietzsche forecast our future

When the sun was very strong and on
a white road

#3 - We might as well be extraordinary

The title was a favourite Nietzsche statement for artist Francis Bacon. Every line of the poem comes from Bacon's description of the horrific allure of a car accident he had witnessed, as related in an interview with Peter Beard. Bacon was drawn to artistic themes of pain and suffering and the existential dilemma that we are little more than meat. Few have led as extraordinary a life as Elizabeth Bathory, nor taken an indulgence for inflicting pain to such excess.

#4 - Elizabeth

Wordless machines
Resting in wait
In their lightless
Ship. Metal limbs
and torsos, dead
Steel eyes -
Defying every law
( ) of longevity
Stored by some
Far forgotten
Race and set
Adrift through

To greet her on
Her skeletal
Throne, tight hide
Of human skin
Pulled over knuckles
And knees, her
Long fingernails
Digging in

"You cannot defeat us.
We do not bleed.
You cannot tear us apart."

#4 - Elizabeth

Here the metaphor of forces set to bring retribution to Elizabeth Bathory as robotic space travellers (hard, cold, metallic, unfeeling, completely alien to all that is human) is introduced. Her crimes (like mankind's) are of incalculable magnitude and answerable only on a scale beyond justice enshrined on Earth. She is enthroned ready for battle, but the forces of universal justice are indomitable.

#5 - Winter Day

Nothing is as cold as this
Not even death
No scimitar
Can cut this brightness
Three sounds:
A flapping flap
A rotor throbbing
The fridge (kicking
In and crackling
Over the speakers)

No place here
For her graven laughter.

#5 - Winter Day

That what we are reading are words written on paper by an author is acknowledged for a moment in this poem. In Art History the twentieth century saw a movement towards the explicit demonstration that artworks are manufactured constructs - objects in themselves and nothing more, reaching fullest expression with Pop Art in the 60s. The rotor throbbing (a military helicopter) has resonances with other themes in the poems.

#6 - Sunset Kestrel

Trying to outstare
One another:
Your yellow-ringed
Eyes like
Eclipsed suns
And your plumage
Bathed in crimson light,
Every dapple
A gravestone
For your
Victim's viscera
With a delicate
Brush by Re,
Gift for Horus,
Pretty falcon
Stained madder

#6 - Sunset Kestrel

This autobiographical poem links the close sighting of a kestrel with reflections on Elizabeth Bathory's ruthless actions and draws on Egyptian mythology, particularly the legend of the feud between Osiris and Seth - a theme revisited in other poems (nb: a kestrel swooping down from the left was later regarded as an omen of sudden disaster.)

#7 - A Bad Solution

A brutal dragon landed here,
I watched it stretch magisterial
Wings, squatting on the spare plot,
Casting shadows beyond three trees,
And uncasting them, huddling
And settling, shuffling on its
Patch then up and away
spraying piss with rainbows
Streaming from it, washing
Birdsong from the land.

#7 - A Bad Solution

The poem is a quadrupal metaphor. The dragon represents the shadow of Bathory cast over her local landscape, and also a portent of the Third Reich's grip over central Europe ("The Final Solution"). It also represents the use of pesticides in modern farming (spraying controversial liquid solutions onto the land, and a "bad solution" to the problem.) Later poems also infer the dragon as a spaceship carrying Bathory's otherworldly adversaries.

#8 - Cenotaph

In Death's blink
You can see it -
Like a virgin's breast punched
Out of the plain
By a buried fist

Nippled by
A lone-toothed citadel

Sculpted by storms
Shaped by electric blue

Headless mushroom
Limbless headless corpse,
Neck a torn crater
Venting screams.

#8 - Cenotaph

Bathory's hilltop castle is nowadays a ruin. Here it is equated with an "empty tomb" - a monument to Elizabeth Bathory's countless anonymous victims. The "mushroom" reference pays tribute to Sylvia Plath's poem, and the image of a buried giant draws on Celtic folkelore.

#9 - Congo

Give me pots of gore
And some ebony
Give me gloss medium
Give me cigarette butts
Give me ash and dust
Unroll a crisp white canvas
Across the earth floor
And stand back

Call it African Abstract Expressionism
Hang it in a gallery
Blindfold everyone and let them
Feel it

Like waiting for something very bad
Outside a door
Clothes too white to risk wiping hands
Clenching fists
Feeling something pooling in one's
bitten palms
Not sweat:

The blood of the innocent.

#9 - Congo

A place in our contemporary world where daily horrors still happen. The poem invites readers to assess mankind's record and the morality of remaining a silent witness.

#10 - Vampire

The kiss
The bite
The same

Two splinters
From the
Same stake

She steps from her coffin
With freebound toes
Dark locks, loose
Moving as though leaving
A bath

Holding her hair to one side to check the way.

#10 - Vampire

This is a sensual vignette symbolizing the allure of the Bathory "Vampire" myth and equally draws on Edvard Munch's famous painting of that title. The poem aims to be a distillation of the thin line between pleasure and pain.

#11 - Möbius Strip

She did a Möbius strip
Climbed into the universe
Naked scattering stars,
Set her teeth like a woman
Of determination; gripped
The galaxy's arms

I will have my place
Amongst these heroines
Make me from Draco
Kuma my fangs

She did a Möbius strip
Twisted the leather strap
Hard around Andromeda's
Wrists, slit her from
Crotch to tongue with a
Comet's tail and pulled
All the feathers from Cygnus

They fell like snow
Blanketing the Earth.

#11 - Möbius Strip

Here Bathory strives to immortalize her myth alongside those of the ancients. The punning poem uses the folded-loop of the Möbius strip as an analogy for the multidimensionality (and mystery) of the universe - the only realm where crimes against humanity can truly be made answerable.

Kuma (v 1, 2 Draconis) is a double star with components of equal magnitude.

#12 - On the Deserted Road

They made a wrong turn
Four of them
February tonguing the air
They made a wrong turn
Four of them

"Where are we?
What is this?"

"I recognize this.
This is the old road."

Nothing more was said.

#12 - On the Deserted Road

This deliberately enigmatic poem is an autobiographical account of a journey made with friends in Norway. The theme of a road is picked up from poem 3 and the concept of four travellers foreshadows later references to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The capitalized line is lifted from Munch:

"I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

(Munch's account of his inspiration to paint The Scream)

#13 - The Thirteenth Victim

I would have married him and had his children
Baked bread for my man
Carefully lifted his shirt
And kissed his back,
After his days in the fields



Down there

Where the smoke rises from
The little shacks and
Old women look up
With bloodshot eyes

I feel her hands
Around my throat
Her fingers are
Smooth, not like
Mine, but she is


My feet are crescent moons.

#13 - The Thirteenth Victim

Testimony from a victim's point of view designed to dignify the anonymous and the innocent.

#14 - In Cincinnati Zoo

On the 1st September, 1914
At 1.00 pm
The last survivng passenger pigeon

So many voices
Feathers enough
To pave a
Path to Seattle

The forests
Had been theirs,
With their long

Until the hunters came
Turning them to hard-
hitting hailstones
And avian meteorite showers.

#14 - In Cincinnati Zoo

Passenger pigeons once thronged the forests of North America. Their annihilation is given here as a metaphor for environmental destruction and the loss of Native American lands, as well as symbolizing the destructive force of Bathory. In Bathory's time pigeons were commonly used to carry messages, and in these poems their message cannot be "snuffed" out. The final pigeon is a symbol for the voice of freedom whose call will continue in the face of all oppression. (See poems 40, 44 and 52)

#15 - Deluge

When the moon's murderous light stayed snuffed
And the castle slept in a black hood
The asterisms formed a policy of
Unprecedented superluminescence and
Pierced space with shattering
Violence, drowning every rock and chine and
Unmarked grave and lichened gnarl;
Flooding every buried bone and sombre nook
With chalk-breathed jaw-white beauty

#15 - Deluge

The very worst atrocities of mankind cannot diminish the awe inspiring beauty of a starlit sky ...

#16 - Weeping Woman

Well, she sits trembling
A butterfly is her ear
She has come to this place
In a carmine hat
Thoughts of how Goya
Painted her ancestors
Have turned her cheek
Into a furled
Vegetable steamer,
Her thumb is a knife

When the walls
Were dismantled
And they found
Her dead amidst
Plates of food
The first thing they
Noticed was
The yellowness
Of her nails

And her tears become diamonds.

#16 - Weeping Woman

Picasso's mistress Dora Maar modelled for his iconic image of a grieving woman, part of his series of works connected with the painting of the Spanish Civil War masterpiece Guernica. The poem draws parallels between Elizabeth Bathory's final moments and Picasso's vision of a woman who is inconsolable.

#17 - Artist to Murderess

How interesting it would be to meet you in a Bratislava coffee shop
Taking out my pencil and scribbling down your features
Looking at your darting eyes over swirling cappuccino steam

They could be anyone's
You could be the counter-girl who served our frothing cups
You are foam
I look at your fingers and think how I could snap them like charcoal.

#17 - Artist to Murderess

The theme of art continues in this poem. Bratislava is 50km south of Cachtice.

#18 - Red Plum

She cut a crucifix into
The base of a plum
And tore it to quarters

Flesh dripped and dangled

With a deft flick the
Stone became a dwarf mussel, bearded

And now the fruit is splayed
A seeping gash of
Amber shreds,
Flapped by skin, bloomed,

And in this pitiable chamber hope dies,
No cross can save us now.

#18 - Red Plum

Bathory's motives for the killing and torture of girls have been regarded as primarily sexual. In this erotic poem a Christian faith (any religious faith) is held up as impotent in the face of evil become manifest.

#19 - Giza Express

Osiris, Orion,
Call him what you will
Man reassembled
Arms bound in a
Tight X, faster than
The carved mask
Smothering his face,
Nest of coffins hanging
On his shoulders

So we find him:
Hacked briquettes
Lumps of tar and rag,
The engine's furnace
His final tomb

Twelve seconds afterlife as
A train's locomotion.

#19 - Giza Express

This poem declares that death cannot be cheated and that no afterlife awaits us. It uses Egyptian myth and history to espouse an existentialist viewpoint. In the story of brothers Osiris and Seth, Osiris is hacked to pieces by his sibling, but reassembled and resurrected by his sister Isis. The myth was key in Egyptian funeral rites and instrumental in popularizing the cult of embalming. As Egypt industrialized at the end of the nineteenth century the number of disinterred mummies became so high that bodies were used as fuel for steam trains.

#20 - Smoke

Hanging over sand
He is dissipated
Like Van Gogh's
Tinged ruddy,
Silica and clinker,
In which
Nothing can be
Bare mile
The last
Echo of
His passing (
The falcon's
talon scratch
on the raw

#20 - Smoke

A companion poem to Giza Express that expresses the fleeting insubstantiality of a single human life. The reference to Van Gogh alludes to both his physical appearance and his painting Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background. Proxima Centauri is the red dwarf companion of Alpha Centauri and at 4.3 light years the closest star to our solar system. The bracket opening to nothing is a deliberate visual device.

#21 - Movie

In the movie
They showed her
In a syrupy bath
And washing
Her upper arms
Is what they
liked, hair up,
Tits below
the vermeil goo,
Round bath,
Room to pan
Wide, catch
A toe poking
Lips slightly

Like Elizabeth's
After passing bone
Across her tongue
Playing fast and loose
With the chance of
Nicking it - wren-peck
Cut from careless
Shard - enough to
Cause a small
pant maybe

#21 - Movie

The Bathory legend has inspired many films, including Hammer's 1971 version Countess Dracula. The myth that Bathory bathed in her vicitim's blood is a favoured theme in most movies about her life.

#22 - Rather stale smell that incense leaves next day

She came
In a dream in another reality
Misting the one lens
That wasn't rendered superfluous
By the eyepatch
The leg holes of her non-Catholic girl's
Drawers, her heavy skirts lifted
by glistening-still, wet, red, ring-heavy
Fingers - ones that might have
Ravaged a jam sponge seconds
And he knew he'd met his match:
A bloody countess come from
A darker age than
Any he could possibly have
Imagined, soiled in ways his
pen could never shape into
Words, stump-bandage Valkyrie
Sheela Na Gig of the axe

#22 - Rather stale smell that incense leaves next day

The title comes from Joyce's Ulysses (beginning of Part II). The poem imagines a nocturnal visitation by Bathory to the author, who notoriously gave voice to his basest sexual urges in letters to Nora Barnacle, but here encounters a level of sexual depravity beyond even his imagining. Joyce had severe eye problems and eventually wore an eyepatch beneath his spectacles.

#23 - Rothko Room

Here are several
Windows - each
Seeped deep maroon
(Framing nowhere)
Blacker blacks
Eyelids blocking
Big sentences
Of the same
Repeating sound:
A chant, a note,
A shrill bell
Intoning one name
For every listener

And when she
Spirited through
She felt her syllables:
( ) Elizabeth

#23 - Rothko Room

Mark Rothko committed suicide by taking pills and slashing his wrists, being found with arms spread wide in his own blood. He often emphasised the connection between music and his paintings. True artists, he believed, like poets and philosophers dealt with "verities of time and space, life and death and the heights of exultation and despair."

#24 - Cry

I cannot dance
Like this much longer
Tired arms.
But not from guilt
For my
Gold bands
No protection
In this draught-ramaging crucible
Joints corroded hinges on a
Box of base lead

I feel my blood solidifying
Someone is getting at me
Spinning a veil from my brittle veins

I am choking on spiders' webs,
Gagging on gossamer
Driven to rip still more
Girls asunder
Searching for their elusive cores
A feeling of pushing my
Thumb between
Ulnae and radii
Digging for squeals
Dampness swelling
Between my thighs.

#24 - Cry

This poem concerns the exhausted despair of an insatiable psychopath and revisits the image of dancing encountered in poem 3 Puberty.

#25 - Grey in a White Stable

Hardly visible
With your proud mane
Casting shivers
To fetlocks
And forelock:
Quivers of whiteness
Titanium flanks
Shaking like
The last seed of
The pissabed
Clock caught
By the peace dove's
Whisper, eyes
Connected to
Worrying, aslant,
Dust-glare gleams
Darting dark
Flash, hot
Coal in snow

Which of the
Four horsemen
Will ride you
And whither you shall go.

#25 - Grey in a White Stable

The first horse ridden by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is said to have been white. Here the mount of that first harbinger of doom is barely visible against its white surroundings - a symbol of the unknowability of the onset of Armageddon. (Quirky note: poem inspired by the briefest glimpse of a white horse in an episode of Dallas - Season 3, number 12 "Miss Ellie Saves the Day")

#26 - Scar

How I long
To lick each crusted
Jewel of your witch's
Lovebite linear scarlet
Slash, to feel the powdery
Purple dessicated clotted
Scab-dust fizzle in
My rockpool
Seafresh mouth
To pick apart
The rusted
Filigree encaustic
Of your weeping wound
And introduce your
New-ope'd edges to
The delving Inquisition
Of my oyster tongue.

How I long
To set my burning
Feet upon a shore
And sense the cleansing
Sand's soft tidal pulse,
To feel the waking
Earth's quick dewy
Breath and tease
The hardened ichor
From my ravaged
Cheek. To pull my
Lashes wide to greet
The blinding sun and
Wash the perfume
Of your wanton bite
Into the salving

#26 - Scar

The poem contrasts the brutal lesbian and vampiric lust of Bathory with her victim's desire to be cleansed of the evil that has touched her. The double meaning for scar - a geological feature - is also important, both as a description of the landscape around Cachtice, and as a common feature in the Yorkshire Dales visited in the next poem.

#27 - Haworth

How many little ice-cold hands
Must writhe on wrists drawn
To and fro on broken panes
To justify redemption?

Field of doors
To the underworld
All flat, all heavy

Too heavy for children's
Twig-thin arms
to lift and haul
Away and clamber
From on Judgement

They will be lost

And she will march
In swirling night things
Gathering like a Gothic
Cape the blood-drenched
Bedclothes from her couch
About her.

#27 - Haworth

"Little ice-cold hands" is a reference to Wuthering Heights chapter 3 in which the spectre of Cathy as a child appears to Lockwood. Haworth churchyard is paved with flat slab gravestones of the countless children who died in that insanitary village. Emily Brontë herself was taken by tuberculosis, and died on the couch still seen in the parsonage. Brontë and Bathory share initials, but sit at polar opposites as gothic icons. Here innocent children are forgotten, yet the monstrous Bathory, by her reputation, gains immortality.

#28 - Babel

A thought occurred to her
To de-tongue the next one -
Savour the dumb pleading
But to do that she'd need
Help, assemble the loyal
Clan and allocate specific

The selected mouth
Was particularly beautiful

Even she closed her eyes
As the ecstasy and the revulsion
The scream was a nasal grunt

Blood fountained
To a crimson garden
And she ran outside,
Her lungs corseted

No bird, no voice, no sound
Of rain on the castle cobbles
No baby's yelp, no bark
No roar yet the trees moved


The entire world mute

And her gaze said
"What have I done?"

#28 - Babel

Elizabeth Bathory's inventiveness in torture reached evermore bizarre levels, yet somewhere in her was perhaps a kernel of human feeling. This poem revisits the theme of the silent witness (poem 9 Congo) and looks ahead to the final poem Opera of Blood.

#29 - Tintoretto did not choose that yellow rift

So the fog was lifting
And the sky spitting
Out its hidden shapes
One by one, an anti-suck
Plopping tree, mound, castle
Onto steaming soil
Every shape a skull
Dulled by snail-thick
no one was looking
up or even thinking there
Could be a God in heaven:
Those thoughts were for
Men in frocks and noble-
women, countesses.
Here was simple work
to be done and, God
willing, plagues to be

#29 - Tintoretto did not choose that yellow rift

The title comes from Sartre:

"Tintoretto did not choose that yellow rift in the sky above Golgotha to signify anguish or to provoke it. It is anguish and yellow sky at the same time. Not sky of anguish or anguished sky; it is an anguish become a thing, an anguish which has turned into yellow rift of sky, and which thereby is submerged and impasted by the qualities peculiar to things, by their impermeability, their extension, their blind permanence, their externality, and that infinity of relations which they maintain with other things."

(Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations II, 1948)

#30 - Baby

held it
In her arms

The wet
Lifted it

Of pale

Small knees
Like fairy

Snub nose

#30 - Baby

Elizabeth Bathory did have children, and as far as we know treated them well. The family line continues to this day.

#31 - Kheda

Question the number of beasts
This stockade will take
Before the weight of stars
shall shoulder down the flimsy
Picket river sapling noose
And vomit out its
Charging bile-hordes over
Lake and stone.

Count the tuskless skulls
Piled palace-high and dung
Balls pressed to trampled suns
By panicked hills of snorting
Solid cloud and screaming

See the flattened twisted gurns
The eyeless gapes and ear-ripped
Grins on hair-stripped rugs with
Human faces.

Feel the waiting
Taste the universe's waking moment
Hear the cockerel crow.

#31 - Kheda

A Kheda is a temporary enclosure for wild elephants. The poem aims to evoke impending doom - for Bathory, her victims and possibly the human race. "Flattened twisted gurns" refers to photographs of victims of mountaineering accidents.

#32 - While No One was Watching

While no one was watching
The flamingoes watered


Like The Eagle landing on
Tranquility's Sea

They shaped themselves into gentle

A palette of permanent rose
And unpaintable purple

As though
Monet had been in the garden

Promenading his poor-sightedness

Nonchalantly leaving
Drips on the wet
Bridge rail.

#32 - While No One was Watching

This poem has personal meaning and offers a zen-like interval in the catalogue of carnage.

#33 - Succubus

Hard, driving, untamed
Lust-screw, cranked
Cog-wheel, ass-pulled
Mill grinding, powder-flying
Flour-crazed, dust-choked
Sleep swallowing, dough-
rising, bread-melting

Slapped, firm, clenched
On this man-oven,
Door clanged, shot-bolted
Sweat boiled pumping-
thing gripped, locked,
Torn, tearing, ripped
Teeth-on-edge, agitated,
Wobbling, releasing

She could have any man she wanted
She was the Bride of Frankenstein.
Thunder and lightning reigned under her skirt.

#33 - Succubus

Bathory was known to be promiscuous and had lovers of both sexes. This onomatopoeic work revisits poem 22's theme of the female nocturnal demon and uses Joyce-style compound words to evoke a supernatural sexual act. Flour mill references pay homage to the final scene of the 1935 movie Bride of Frankenstein.

#34 - Forest Clearing

High on the tree-furred flanks
Of the White Carpathians
Above the line of low clouds
They wait

Having descended from their cots
And lubricated themselves with
Oils unknown to Natural Philosophy

Flexing forceps and scalpels
On the end of poles - lances
For limbs
Climbed away from their
Place of landing
Knowing in their infra-red
How to navigate the dark

Bare wen - burnt black
Acidified shrub ground,
Footprint from space.

#34 - Forest Clearing

This poem, superficially appearing to be concerned with environmental issues, reintroduces the robotic space travellers set to wreak vengeance on Bathory.

#35 - Full Rape

She liked to touch
the instrument
Cup her hands to receive it
Her precious lingam
Artefact chanced upon
In a damp glade cockspurred
By forces more powerful
Than her. Vital cankered
Root, briar-spawn,
Tool of stroking and
Pestling. With it she
Shed her girlish skin,
Untied her long hair,
Played the Minotaur's
Part, planting deep
The shaft.

#35 - Full Rape

The ambiguity here is deliberate. Bathory is imagined improvising a false penis and using it either on a victim or herself. The poem advances the notion that sadists might in some way also be punishing themselves.

#36 - The Pale Carpet

O it had cost a high sum
Beneath the rose
To suffocate the wind
And roll fine wool over
Board and air -
Blocking, muting every
Spyhole to that
Very private sanctuary.
A hundred loom-hours
Lost in service to
The weave of secrecy.
A place to walk as
On goose down snow

All ripped
All cleaved
All tattered

Draughts edging in,
Nerve-ends severed

Hanging free

And a wine-dark stain
The mark of passing.

#36 - The Pale Carpet

That so many atrocities remained secret is astonishing, yet to this day acts of mass murder and genocide happen to the ignorance of many. Bathory grew ever more daring in her choice of victim, and when girls from the nobility went missing questions were asked. Whether she longed to be caught is unknown. ("Beneath the rose" derives from clandestine meetings below a carved ceiling rose in Tudor times.) This poem also has autobiographical content.

#37 - Dream of the Executioner

The horrors were doubled
Acted again on the stage
Of the night
Shuttered eyes were
Worthless portcullises
Against nightmare
Foes little understood

Why did she see
Horseless knights
Marching stutteringly
Over vast plains?

She could fly like
Her father's
Enemies' falcons
Bells on her ankles

And taste something

Now she lay dying
And every brick
Was shaped like sleep
The weight of walls
Could be scribbled
As a mathematical amount -

And she tasted again
The sharp whiteness
Of cold-pressed steel

And recognized it -


#37 - Dream of the Executioner

Even in sleep Bathory cannot escape from her mounting crimes. She dreams of the otherworldly retribution awaiting her.

#38 - The Lost Dance

Dear cousin,
Pray for me
And keep my house swept clean
And when you find my shoes
Amidst the leaves
In this grave spot
Remember me
And sing your song and
Let my toes now
Gone to bone rest on
And carry me within
Your mind and whirl me
In the dance
We never had and
Knowing that I live
In that immortal tavern
Of your head
I shall no longer grieve
That she has pulled me
Limb from limb
And burnt my eyes
And flayed my skin
And feasted on
My blameless blood
And left me here
To die in this
Dark wood.

#38 - The Lost Dance

In this poem - a pivot around which all the other poems revolve - the voice of another anonymous victim is heard.

#39 - Mjølner

Forged by a thunderess
From the metal teeth
Of fallen gods
Beaten into shape with
Fists feminine and
Friable, perfect

For mashing,
Smashing, brains
And skulls, taking
Over deities and
Crushing every

And shield bug
Case, taste the
Bitter pill
The ladybird deflowered

Gulp wing-juice
Black and red and acrid.

#39 - Mjølner

Picking up on the Scandinavian allusions in other poems, Bathory here is presented as a female counterpart to Thor. Her hammer (mjølner: Thor's tool for "crushing") however is a delicate instrument. Ladybirds are renowned for their unpleasant taste.

#40 - Caged Bird

Light was captured
On the eighth day and
Swallowed whole, no
Chink was left in the
Entire cosmos, and dark
Was velvet and thick

Yet a bird sang on
Somewhere out there

And all the warty hands
Groping couldn't find it
And snuff it out.

#40 - Caged Bird

This poem returns to bird imagery, here symbolizing universal hope as well as genetically inherited "goodness" (see poem 52). The bird also represents the very fortunate few of Bathory's victims who were discovered alive.

#41 - After the Epiphany

What wind is this riding from the west
Uprooting tents and upsetting stoves?
We thought our work was done and
Empty-handed homeward bound our way
To make would be a gentle one;
Now our mounts are huddled in a
Sunrise-facing troop and closing eyes
Denying every beat of hoof the wind brings
Forth. By their rumbling bodies cower
We with coronets and staffs
And branded lips for fear our words
Will be erased and everything we've seen
Hooked out with eye and ear. And in
That wind we catch her name and
Watch as from each element and bank
And sheltered place our gods
Are scarified.

#41 - After the Epiphany

Bathory as a metaphor for mankind's evils is revisited in this poem alongside Christian imagery. The Magi have abandoned their beliefs and carry news of Christ to their homelands. The storm of evil overwhelms them however and they are left in a godless universe. The poem also postulates a secular "epiphany" - the peace that might ensue when all religious allegiance is abandoned.

#42 - Apocalypse

A final act
And every door
Is closed
Things that
Have a way
Of working
Out do not
Bolts are drawn
Windows locked
The place shut
Up, retired
From a role
In laws of
Physics, out
To grass in
Meadows black
No leaf, no bud
No circulation
Of a world
Around a
Warming sun

The work of
Man is done.

#42 - Apocalypse

This poem seeks to evoke complete, all-consuming despair.

#43 - A Walk in the Country

She decided to take a walk in the country
And pulled on her favourite boots
Wriggling her ankles into them as
She didn't have a maid to help her
- what oversights

The day was crafted by the finest
Artisans of fair weather and nature
The path was thawing, just a slight
Crisp bite to it, traceries of fallen leaves
- from last autumn

Could this be spring already? Surely
Not, in January? But there were some
Shoots shoving up through the mould
Like asparagus tips, teats of an
Earth Mother

She removed a glove to stroke
Wet tree foliage, releasing a thick
Puff of pine: resin that seized
Her nostrils and instilled brief

The last time her hand had been wet
Was with blood
The last time her heart leapt was
In slaughtering.

#43 - A Walk in the Country

The poem begins as an antidote to poem 42, but has a twist in the tale.

#44 - No Pigeon Brings the News

Is everything
All dignity denuded
Like a
Caryatid draped
her own sick

Use are her
She wheezes and
Brings forth

Heavy and white
Is throttling

Her eyes are drums

Close above
Children are playing

The smell of gas is
A ghost wolf's howl.

#44 - No Pigeon Brings the News

The sequence has reached a point where all is lost. The poem may be about Bathory or her victims, but also reflects the suicide of Sylvia Plath and deaths in the Nazi concentration camps.

#45 - Burnt Umber

Someone came by here
And painted everything
Burnt umber
Chairs, tables, clock
Floor, walls


And the weight of it all
Is squeezing her organs -
Wringing out every
Brown-soaked drop

She looks at the night sky:
All is cupreous,
Stars are knots in
Deep mahogany

A carpenter has
Shaped the heavens
Like a coffin,
Lined black
She searches for sparks
Until her retinas bleed

But there is nothing.

#45 - Burnt Umber

Even the candlelight of poem 3 is now darkened. The clock imagery alludes to Edvard Munch's late painting Self-portrait between clock and bed (1940-42).

#46 - The Scream

All night she cries
And clasps her ears
Trying to block out
Her own heartbeat
In her stupidly silent
Bedchamber, legs
Wheeling in a cork-
screw sweat-dress
Frenzy, twisting sheets
And tying hair with
Wild neck-jerks

Waiting ...

#46 - The Scream

Munch's famous title is borrowed for an expression of tortured anxiety. The subject may be Bathory or one of her victims - or indeed the human race.

#47 - The Great Unasked Question

Ticking singularity
Clockless mantel

Toadstools are the forest flowers
Guardians of mulch and arrows
The place where soldiers rest
And urinate, without speaking -
One might slap the other on
The back, sending piss up a tree
Letting laughter out like farts

Helmet or
Black hole or

Whittling little twigs with their
Swords, and doing little jigs
Because they're too bored to say
They're bored

Wondering what gold or holes might come their way.

#47 - The Great Unasked Question

The question "what is the great unasked question?" cannot be answered. The soldiers in this poem are repellent and symbolize the evil that can be perpetrated in the name of religion, ideology or the state. They could also be the men of Juraj Thurzo, Palantine of Hungary, who were sent to arrest Bathory in 1610.

#48 - Conflagration

They really didn't care what got in their way
They had a thirst for a particular widow and
Nothing was going to stop them. Their journey had
Been achingly long - an arthritis of eternity

A band of human things messing about in the
Forest was the least of their concerns. In
Fact, whether they were animal or vegetable was
Immaterial. Their march was a paralysing light,
A torch-burn fire yell locked in an ice-walk

Within seconds every soldier's eyes were scorched,
Most were footwear and no more - with
a dribble of ash in each boot and the rest
Gone to form stuff of the universe. Spontaneous

Unheralded combustion. And they never looked
Back to count or calculate because they
Were set on the course of the inevitable and
No earthly army was of the least significance

The time for accountability had arrived.

#48 - Conflagration

The poem continues the soldiers' story and sees them annihilated by the robotic force en route to Bathory's castle. Thus, all perpetrators of violence are answerable for their actions. Imagery of death by forest fire here is based on a first hand account of soldiers killed in Cyprus in 1956.

#49 - Werewolf

Immaculate transformation
I can do it with a brush
Or a pen
Peering in a mirror
Down in Munch's basement
Turning clocks backwards
And shaving hair on

All set to strut out onto
Karl Johan and
Find a butcher's shop
Shove every red, raw
Bloody slab of stuff
down my
Gullet - fish, blubber
Oil and then start
On the Northern Lights:
Huge wispy chunks
Uncooked, gulped,
Ultraviolet dribbling
Off my fangs, part
Of an Old Tradition
And the Norse gods
Clapping, laughing

#49 - Werewolf

An autobiographical poem placing the sequence in a North European tradition and paying homage to Edvard Munch's stream of consciousness writings.

#50 - Swastika

They crucified a woman
Thrust a spear in her breast
Daughter of God
Dragged her behind four horses
One white
Tied her to the harness
By her hair
Declared her too beautiful
To be quartered
Hung her and drew her
Stood her before the
Degenerate Art Committee
Raped her one at a time
Through alternate orifices
Until her grimace
Was a Nazi salute
And her pudenda
Raw with the rubbing
Of their little cocks
Then they chuckled
And spat on her
And kneaded their
Fat-fingered hands
Together and said:
"This is our intention,
We will leave you

#50 - Swastika

Bathory's crimes were small compared to the horrors faced by Central Europe in the Second World War - and the threat posed to freedom of expression and art. Art here is represented as a woman, who could also be the sum of Bathory's victims and all innocent people slaughtered through the ages.

#51 - Why do My Hands Softly Weep?

Why do my hands softly weep?
I have acted my own pietà
Virgin and Christ as one am I
I pray for forgiveness
To the impenetrable void.

#51 - Why do My Hands Softly Weep?

This is Bathory's final pitiable cry, and a distillation of existential angst.

#52 - Opera of Blood

All the washing in the world
Could not remove her heat
From the bedclothes.
At the milky river, the
Women scrubbed all night
Turning the sky vermillion

So they wrapped her in what
They had and bound her
With her ropes, embalmed
Her in her victim's deep
Blood and soon it clotted

Worm-morsel for the visitor
- the giant bird
Everyone was talking about
The dragon that had breathed
To ash armies in the woods.
And they tossed her to
The castle parapet and left
Her like a sodden catkin
Caught crooked on the ironwork
Useless carpet after floods

And left.

Hear now the wolves howl
The wind is rocking her
Its hands cold from the north
Undoing knots, slipping off
Her coverture, unlacing her dress's
Back, put there by her virgins,
Pulling open every tie and

Sweet seduction she had never
Known in life, witnessed by
The stars' cold eyes

And naked she can lie
Breeze pecking off each flake
Of haem, each eyelash
Counting denudation, and
In her pit a little death,
An aching clench to make
The moon her counsellor

But everything is stark
And blood-drenched sheets
Take flight. Drumbeats
Fill the view from every window
Opened to the heavens and
Tonight the valleys rest
Awake, someone died
Last night.

Across the skies
The bats displace.
A million beating wings
Take shape to choke
The constellation's song
The long-tailed flocks
Transport the sun.

The pigeons have arrived
To breakfast on her waking
Eyes and spew them back
To sockets gouged
So she will see her dis-

Mist lifting on a craggy stump
A sound like cartwheels driven
Over bones and in the air
A smell of Myrrh. Up high,
exposed to every cloud and hawk
A woman bare, stripped even
Of her crimes, gold bangles on
Her arms a sign a noble one
Lies here.

And from the mountains red and raw
With clattering incantations they

Now (now) my hour has come (come)
Now (now) can I meet my redeemer
(Redeem her)
Now (now) can I sing a plain song
(now) can I (she) fix the stars

Here they stalk with steely incisors
Jointed metal limbs whirring,
Snipping, severe ruby stares
Designed by an elegant cosmic
Principle her flesh and blood
To dismantle in exacting
Detail and rebuild with wire
And cable. Drawing out her
Sinews, pulling out her membranes
Extracting every drop of sweat
She pours with penetrating
Needles, folding back her
Roseate skin to pick at
Muscle, bone and nerve
Removing strand by strand each
Ligament and sucking tendons
From each knob and cusp and
Bony protuberance, threads like
Harp strings, surgical instruments
Their bows in symphony her
Deconstruction, loud rips
A timpani of dripping lymph, her
Chin torn, curved
Particular incision flapped a
Lid for spleen and lung
Eviscerated, oviducts twanged
Metallic fist juice-glistening
Gripping gall and artery
A thousand thousand cuts
And now her blood is sifted
For remains, small gemstones
Salted soft cloyed liver-shards
Each jelly layer removed and
Sliced away and scalped
Her womb ripped out her throat
A gleaming pipe, a gristle-snake
Shaved of every strand
Of woman, thick sticky gloop-
whip, brain-stem
Stretched free, recoiled
Her entrails catching tiny
Glints of morning light.

And she is liquified,
And in the bloody sacral dust
She was
Time travellers rake
With scratching
Implements to scrape
Into a phial
A wizened husk -
Her soul.

And in the fields
Girls laugh and skip
And pluck the flowers to sniff
And dream of love.

#52 - Opera of Blood

Elizabeth Bathory was buried in the church of Cachtice, but following anger from villagers removed to the Bathory family vault at Nagyecsed. This final poem uses a fictional image of Bathory's remains as a symbol for the crimes of mankind. In a godless universe, only the powers of rationality can conquer evil. And from depravity can spring enlightenment. Ultimately this is a poem of hope. (nb: "a little death" is a female orgasm. "Sacral dust" - the sacrum was once believed to contain the human soul.)


EB by AO