The High Priestess – Sherre Vernon

“…just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her…she lets the river answer
… said all men will be sailors then, until the sea shall free them…”
-from “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen

in the auditorium’s dark
mid-line she breaks

by the projector light:
her face the moon,
the moon, her legs
a harp frame,
her back a crescent

they’ve put her to teach
the Pentateuch
& all the Poets
this old nun
you’ve been watching
in every swampy lecture
since middle school
clicking through
dusty slides, still
brilliant, despite the earthy
sweat of us all.

& she is suddenly a girl
in firelight: her skin
liminal, the balance
between you
& the sun
the blinding light
just outside
& then she’s

quaint & quiet
& you wonder how this body—
what you need—
what is hidden—
& you’re nothing
but your cells:
no syllabus
no Macbeth.

turn away

the year we are to graduate
you grow weary of her
lectures in severity & mercy
& all Christ’s graces

you write a comparative theology
when she asks for exegesis:
say it’s her body in trinity
in the Trinity of Him
not the Bride beholden
but the Spirit incarnate

you say all women
are the Pentecost
their tongues a filament
that pulls men to the sea
their legs the branches
to the Tree of Life

& still, in her red
headmaster’s robe
hands held evenly
in her lap, she smiles
says, “A poet must
but walk with God”

And you let the river answer

but she’s built you an altar
to grieving & somehow
now you are holding
midnight vigil for Emily
& Abraham, for Neruda
Dante & Donne.

we, laughing, come
as some foolish prescience
of ourselves
light our candles
set them at her feet

but you sit like a saint
between the pillars of the school
reciting all the lines, like rosary
hands folded in your lap

we, the seven
the dogged ones
she called
her Resurrection
we know our duty:
we are come
to bury her

but you arrive rent & weeping—
O Hecate—
O Holy Joan—
your hands a bouquet
of cypress branches
your breath
heavy with mandrake
your steps
pure crystal

only then it strikes me:
the oddity of you, like her
loving all those fragile pages
each one a veil, like the blue
& translucent leaves
of the belladonna, inscribed
& shrouding what
only the heart knows
those pages, shimmery
glyphs so light
like the gossamer
of the gown
we’ve wrapped her in
& golden
beneath the edges

& then, on the edge
of her interred, you—
like we did
year after year
on the last day—
you’re piling books
in front of her

& I can hear your voice
like a distant prayer returning
to her what was hers, every line of it—
                                                         every word.

Sherre VernonSherre Vernon is an educator, a seeker of a mystical grammar, and a 2019 recipient of the Parent-Writer Fellowship at MVICW. She has two award-winning chapbooks: Green Ink Wings (prose) and The Name is Perilous (poetry). Readers describe Sherre’s work as heartbreaking, richly layered, lyrical and intelligent. To read more of her work visit