The gaol chapel was lit by a single candle placed
on the altar
behind the priest in blood red robes.
I was led
up a stone corridor past a cast iron door, a chill
despite the May day. I was told
I could not see you beforehand.
When they brought you in, pale and spectacled
they removed
the shackles, your raw wrists
a reminder of violence. We were flanked
by two witnesses, soldiers, the priest
clasping his hands, his back
to the false windows, no sky, no moonlight.
The pews were empty, no family—
just us, the priest, the windows, the soldiers,
our shadows.

This will be brief, they said; no talking, no touching.
I wore a plaid dress, white collar and sleeves,
fake flowers on a straw hat. We read
our vows like children. We signed
our names on the register. I felt guilty
to know you had money.
Me, a spinster, and you, a gentleman.

Our marriage, the beginning
of our life
ended in the morning
in the stonebreakers’ yard—

I imagined you
small beneath the unscalable stone walls,
my blind imbecile, the seagulls
mocked you. Twelve soldiers
held their rifles, aimed at your marker: six standing,
six kneeling. Such order.
Such perfect symmetry.

I still have your letter:
‘You will marry me and nobody else.’

You, a martyr. Me, a widow.