Carole Coates

The House of the Perfects

Priests and commentators have objected to this term on the grounds that the women cannot with any certitude be classed as “Perfects”; preferring an altogether more cautious title such as “The place where young women, postulants, attempt perfection.”

Dance, N., Christian Cults, New York, 1977, p.101.


But the locals call it The Pebble House.

We would assume a well inside the courtyard and there is talk of bushes –
a tangle of currant bushes whitening every spring but
no fruit softens on the branch. Are they white currants?
Or red? But they are hardly food, after all.

Sometimes hooligans or mothers fling figs or chocolate bars,
curfew-dodging silently, or sometimes one will shout
if the Gabriels are absent, but this is frowned on
and may result in conversations with the police.

Twenty years ago, folk came to see ropes hanging
down from each window - “sacred pigtails” Ozen said
in his poem on the subject - ropes hacked back and back each month,
until the stumps were given to the families as relics.

These days, each female's weight is broadcast on TV
between the prayers and recipes and when one becomes Perfect
a priest will chant the verse all day on the Women's Channel
“A stone will nourish if the appetite is holy” and a white bird is released in the
.. Square.

The stones are smooth and round, found in mountain waterfalls
and brought to the city with great reverence. The first is given
when the woman discards her bleeding, the second when she dissolves
her breasts and the third when she grows a fine hair on her face and body.

One stone, the whitest, she places in her mouth. The second stone she takes
in her left hand, the third in her right, then she lies down on her bed.
So we are told. Because, of course, all this is hearsay. Some even say
the doors are never locked, that rice or burgers are daily provided.

Perfects are burnt, as men are, up in the mountains. Their bodies are not seen.
But the house must be full of stones, in drifts among the currant bushes,
choking the well, piled in corners, on stairs - enough to break your ankle –
white pyramids of round, sucked stones. They call it the Pebble House.

published in Other Poetry Series 4 no. 1 2010
from Swallowing Stones, 2012, Shoestring Press.

© 2011 Carole Coates

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Last updated 20 June 2016