What certain voice
“And there came out an Egyptian, foul of look, with his attendants to fight against me. And to me also there came goodly young men to be my attendants and supporters. And I was stripped and was changed into a man.”—St. Perpetua, died in the coliseum in Carthage, 203 AD
When I was a boy,
My mother sat me down
At the kitchen table
And said to me, “You are
The man of the house now.”
My father had moved out.
My mother couldn’t stop crying.
All I can remember thinking
Is that it would be like
Halloween. I’d already played
Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman.
What was one more part?
It’s hard to see the exact length
Of childhood, or any other life
Shaped in this handmade world.
Forty years later, in a café,
The woman across from me,
The woman with whom I’d been
Having an affair for the past year,
The woman with whom I was planning
To leave my family asks, “Who are you?”
As if we could hold more than a guess,
as if whatever changing light
moves through us were a choice.
Author’s Commentary: "What certain voice" is part of a series of poems in conversation with historical figures who have been labeled mentally ill. St. Perpetua is one of many medieval women mystics who were seen as crazy. The poem begins with St. Perpetua's words just before she was fed to the lions in the coliseum in Rome.
Peter Grandbois is the author of eight previous books, the most recent of which is This House That (Brighthorse Books, 2017). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over ninety journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is a senior editor at Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio.