The 200 Pagan Students of St. Cassian of Imola

by Marjorie Maddox

And what did they write with their iron styli,
what complaints carve into his scholar skin
by order of the Emperor; by assignment
and timely, stab with their pens
up and down his spine,
his torso, his limbs, his long fingers
that taught them to curve letter
into word, sentence into shorthand,
educator’s vow into verdict,
switching his blood for ink,
dipping into the well of flesh
again and again until he died
stripped, bound, and tied
on that stake not unlike a cross—
the one who believed
what they did not?

What revenge, their litany of names,
this turning the word on the Word-giver;
in jest inscribing the prayers of the dead
on the dying, who would become—
before they closed their student eyes
to rest from the day’s composition—
the print on the page of that book
they’d never open, now or ever after,
the ending already written,
already read.

Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, MARJORIE MADDOX has published 11 collections of poetry including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist)Local News from Someplace Else; Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite); four children’s and YA books—including  Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises (International Book Award Finalist) and A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in PoetryI’m Feeling Blue, Too!, Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); Presence  (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Her book Begin with a Question is forthcoming from Paraclete Press in 2021. For more information, please see

Featured Image: “St. Cassiano” by Amico Aspertini