The Mary Poems, Part Three



Two days my husband lay dying,  still and blind.

When it was finished, my oldest son went out alone

into the hills cutting like iron against the stars.

Now he returns, thin as wind.

Now begins his father’s work.




He sits with his friends

while the lamps burn out.

They talk, they talk;


they eat my bread

and drink my wine

and wait.


Elizabeth is dead.

Dying she laughed,


Fill no cup 

for Elijah– 

he drinks no wine.


But I want wine

for my thirst is great.

There is no more.


Now is the time

for me to call my son

by his dark name.




She does not stop her work to look, to speak,

her shuttle a white bird across her loom.

Twelve years ago the warp of her womb was ripped;


twelve years she lived torn apart and stained,

a tattered rag.  Now she is rewoven.

Now she weaves a tunic without a seam.




What have I begun?  What shall I do?

The sun pours itself into the sky.

Once only the cock crows.


He weeps like a child with his face in his hands.

John is dead–Elizabeth’s joke and song.

I wash his feet. He will not rest

but return to his frightened friends.


What I can do, I do.

Five loaves of bread and some fish in a basket:

I give him what I have.




Martha spreads the figs in rows.

Mary strews them in spirals,

singing a children’s song.

Sara’s small daughters make dolls of clay.

Three days in the sun

and all will be dry;

I will not dry so soon.


Today an old woman

withered to a shell,

her thin bones bending

under the weight of air,

drew a blessing from her well

and my old womb

remembered its work.


Old woman with the sky

on your back, smoothing

the stones with your steps,

your words are springs of water

in my wilderness.

I too am old, and yet

I live to bless.




She scrabbles in the dust before me,

too frightened to weep, as shredded as her clothes.

Blood dries on the corner of her mouth,


her arms and face swollen and bruised.

Wild gold hair covers her like dead grass–

with my fingers I smooth the ragged strands.


When she can breathe, when she can speak, she asks

me of my son, and I tell her where he is.

They know me in that house, she says, as well


as men can know.  In shame they’d see me dead.

And I remember Joseph’s face,

his hands, his lips in my hair.


I feed her bread and wine;

I give her myrrh, the alabaster flask–

last treasure of the kings.  I have no more.


She runs from my house.  She does not look back.

Her hair floats like a veil of flame.

Dust swirls in clouds around her dusty feet.




My son climbs the mountain,  man-shape of light

against the black and churning sky.  I climb

within him:  the dust that gave him flesh.


Smothered in dry and heavy air–

a mountain, barren, cold, and stone–

I think that I would like to die.


My son has no shelter from this storm.

I give him all my strength, my blood.

I see him in shadow, hear him in silence.


The great bird broods silent over all

and that voice I know from old begins to speak.

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