('In the sixth month the angel Gabriel...' Luke 1:26)
Bellini has it wrong,
I was not kneeling
on my satin cushion,
in a beam of light,
head slightly bent.
skew the scene,
as though my life
were wrapped in silks,
in temple smells.
Actually, I had just
come back from the well,
placing the pitcher on the table
I bumped against the edge,
spilling water on the floor.
As I bent to wipe
it up, there was a light
against the kitchen wall,
as though someone had opened
the door to the sun.
Rag in hand,
hair across my face,
I turned to see
who was entering,
All I saw
white against the timbers.
A voice I've never
heard greeted me,
said I was elected, would
bear a son who'd reign
forever. The spirit would
I stood afraid.
Someone closed the door
and I dropped the rag.
An Old Woman Remembers
(The Angel Comes)
when the speaking light catches
me barefoot in the kitchen,
soiled torn apron,
hair undone, garbage
crock almost full.
into the room without
a warning, says
I’m chosen, places a bundle
of hard wood upon
a reed, waits for my “yes.”
Pregnant before the bridal
bed, child carrying
child., knowing nods
as the village women see me
pass down the back
alley, whispers, sudden
silences at market as I reach
across the leeks for fresh
hard cucumbers from the country,
-- every choice signs away
tomorrow – teenage sideway
glances and giggles. Secret
awe at the unwed mother.
(How long had this been going
on?) No one sits beside me
on the bench in synagogue.
I see bags under Joseph’s
dark eyes. I’m alone.
Eight months gone, I ride
donkey, Joseph walks
ninety miles to Bethlehem.
Our cave is cold and damp,
oxen stamp their feet
at the invasion, two nervous
doves shuffle back
and forth on the rafters as though
knowing my water had burst
on the back of the donkey, which looked
around to see whence
the warm June shower
in December. The unappeasable pain
on spikey schedule, while
Joseph cobbles dirty
straw from the stable corners
to make a bed; my birth
stool a broken feed box.
I push the child into his
knobby hands as the stable
door creaks and three
oriental potentates kneel
before the bawling baby --
the placenta on the ground.-- They bring
gifts on dromedaries over
Arabian sands, laying
gold, frankincense and myrrh
at our feet, while I need a basin
of hot water, clean
towels, and piles of diapers.
|An Old Woman Remembers
(The Flight into Egypt)
When dark clouds cover moon’s
craters we push open creaky stable
doors, lead the donkey out to leave
for Egypt before Herod’s
soldiers pound upon gate. We hear
Rachels screaming, sons slaughtered
by decree, while we angle across
plowed barley fields, like robbers
with sagging bags of silver drachmas,
always looking back, avoiding
roads. Stadia and stadia later
we hear uncertain night noises
of distant battles, lost and won:
an ox bellowing, and the hissing
of ten skin-headed vultures
as they claw and squabble over a dead
sheep. We pass on the far side.
After two weeks off Gaza roads
we’ve not crossed the border, but far
enough to rest a day beside a huge
abandoned columbarium, rebels’ lair,
filled with white bird droppings,
and coppery green pigeon feathers.
To rest the donkey Joseph stops
beneath a turpentine tree while my infant
wails, wet diaper full once
more. On a flat rock I change
him, give him my nipple. He’s
beautiful beyond all imagining.
In thorn bushes Joseph finds a nest
of sand colored eggs, enough to get us
to the Nile. What cobra-crowned
Ramses reigns as Son of sun-
god Re, demanding bricks,
withholding straw, and knows not Joseph?
|Cana, or Not a Perfect Carpenter
They have no wine. John 2:3 Like us in all things but sin. Hebrews 4:15)
It had to come from somewhere. Expectations
have histories. Out of the blue one does
not say, “They have no wine,” as though
remarking on the gathering of the clouds, or how
late the spring this year. Surely she knew
before she came. Had he bent more
than nails, as he hammered the oak plank,
cut too short for the table top,
and turning to be sure the door was closed,
had he, in a stolen moment, lengthen
it an inch or two, a quick
impatient wonder to cover his mistake?
But through the lattice, had she seen,
smiled and understood. Had she asked
him to build a porch with beams from Lebanon,
where she could catch the breeze, watch
the sun go down? Then as the hard
wood rafters began to drop,
did he twist the law of gravity, put
a kink in the path of falling timbers?
And did she duck – and marvel?
|These poems, as well as several other Marian poems, have been published in Swift, Lord, You Are Not (Collegeville: St. John's University Press [and imprint of Liturgical Press], 2003), and Yahweh's Other Shoe (Collegeville: St. John's University Press [and imprint of Liturgical Press], 2006). The above poems have been reproduced with the permission of the author, Father Kilian McDonnell, OSB, who holds the copyright to them.