About a year and a half ago I lost my uncle to a severe form of skin cancer. When I got the news, everything inside of me prayed it wasn’t true. He was dying. Over the months his condition worsened and in what seemed like an instant, he was gone. I attended the funeral with my family on the Saturday before Easter. I was struck by the finality that is death. By the fact that once the casket would be lowered into the ground and swallowed up by the earth, that was it. There would be no more Alan.
The following day I attended a church service. I attended a play about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ later that evening. In the midst of my processing, I realized that Jesus was the only one written about who conquered the finality of death and reversed it to bring life. That thought got me thinking about Mary, the mother of Christ, grieving the death of her son. What must that have been like for her? A few days later, I went to a poetry reading at The University of Montana. That poet was Mary Szybist, a poet raised as a Catholic. Her collection, Incarnadine draws heavily on her upbringing and her personal sense of disconnect from the perfect and holy Madonna. That got me pondering about the humanness of Christ, and of his mother, and I decided that I wanted to write a poem about it.
Such an idea seemed lofty, beyond what I felt like I was capable as a writer. I finally decided to put pen to paper and have spent the last couple weeks trying to formulate the words of a Mother watching her son be brutally murdered and walking through the seven stages of grief. While I have experienced death and grief, I have never witnessed something as gruesome as Christ’s death. I am also not a mother, so such grief is beyond my full comprehension. In any case, I have done my best to try to place myself in this woman’s shoes–a woman who was full of faith and strength beyond what I could fathom, yet a woman who was as human as you or I. I hope you find some value in these words. I would honestly appreciate any and all feedback you have to offer to help refine this work. Thank you for reading and for engaging with these words.
There is no time for sadness.
Awakening to terror— this white flag
is the only thing rooted.
Echoes of wailing with no registration.
David’s songs forsaken
like the man for whom they were born.
Torn veils and separation,
painted in reds and silvers,
replaying over in my mind.
Your fallen tabernacle released,
a shaking beneath our feet.
Our own temples fell.
Could he have known?
what plans engraved stone tables?
ancient magic revealed only
as one might study the makeup of stars.
Could you not walk with me
as you had in darkened gardens?
Was I the one asleep?
I cannot reverse what we have done.
I no longer recognize my own voice,
there is another woman
screaming me awake.
I am beside myself, shivering in sweat.
Perhaps if I close my eyes
again, I will wake to hammers
pounding away my fears.
yet the only pounding I hear,
accompanied by your sharp gasps.
I will seek you among friends.
Weeks have passed before you returned,
this is no different.
Sweep away the emptiness
like sawdust collected benches.
Tangible refusal to acknowledge
you are not coming home.
Was I merely made of vessel?
The potter’s clay to smash when used?
My God, My God,
why have you forsaken
me? Left vapid and repeat.
I made a home for you, I
untouched, empty womb.
I poured out affection as he
I would become my own.
Father could you know,
a mother’s ache when love is spent?
A purposeless fountain, wasting water,
refreshing no one.
I watched them gather among each other
as they gathered mana from the earth.
entrusting my/our most precious want.
You, the life source. The bread and body.
Though their kisses were given
like silver—pieces of betrayal.
Your kiss deceived me first.
You embodied both: enemy
and heir of my affection.
You had overshadowed me.
How could I separate grief?
You had promised nations
created out of nothingness
as void as the sand and stars.
Our fathers carried hope as burdens—
wanderers searching for rest.
And the namesake of my son,
saw you disguised in cloud and flame,
all glory lit upon the face
of mountains, carved rock,
illuminating these insecure prophets.
You offered solace from nothing—
wilderness in all direction.
Mother Rehab, blessed stranger,
gave us home when thought was doomed.
Stories that have led us blindly
as roles reversed.
Our salvation squandered.
Replace my headstone for this tomb.
Have mercy on my grief, left cold.
Is your compassion as silent
and invisible as the being that holds?
This land that gives, birthed
from your head. They used to say:
even snow understands
the orchard as it buries it.
What costs might kings require?
The coal turned ashen,
touch my purple lips once more,
save he right what we have wronged.
as light chased darkness from my room
You spoke. Assured me of my worthiness.
Grace, you were too kind. To lie.
I never was deserving of hopes,
built on heirlooms. Tradition
that spoke of loyal creation, clasped
in arms of greater cause.
Who am I to hold him,
still unworthy of his loss?
These faces move in subtlety
a mirage of what is human.
You did this for them. Answer me,
did you not think of me?
Every woman is someone
Each man the same.
I, too, have kissed them
like silver pieces begging for trade.
Denied what connected all.
Your blood is on my hands
Yet you wear mine, like darkest of wines—
an eternal stain—there upon your own.
Marked like invitations of two hands
held open, for universe to pour through.
The rain came in torrents.
No virga of warning. Though
clouds seemed darkened for days.
I watched as petals fell from roses
and were carried off in wind.
Their death—water and spirit,
sources meant to revive.
Was yours different?
I watched as both
poured from your side. A sure sign,
this was forever. How will history
go forth from this? What lens now
filters and reflects what’s done?
I held out my palms for bread,
but the ravens came before it reached.
Plucked what was left of these ribs.
These lungs no longer breathe.
There is a hollow inside my chest,
heart empty, though I still feel it’s beat.
Echoing stones in the pit of all I am.
Gethsemane screams forsaken.
Backs turned, ignoring your distress.
What lament invades the slumber
of selfish ill begotten fools?
Swords and kisses marked this.
You laid down your arms in acceptance.
Spoke not a word. No anger,
protest, denial. What opposes these?
I saw traces of Eden in your smile.
Your eyes were a coming home.
To be blind could not excuse what was.
Your touch, though calloused, calmed,
healed all that was unseen.
I am learning that you cannot set flame
to histories. Destroy proof, yet ripple,
carbon footprints, continue onward.
Though I feel as stripped and bare
as his body before me, torn.
I cannot say that you have left me,
your presence sepias my life.
Now I am awaiting this transitional when.
I am learning to believe in goodness
when I see no evidence of promise;
To love means to breathe into another
To become forceless,
To cease to exist…
You stopped breathing.
I am no longer tormented as I sit,
tired eyes by doorways,
waiting for news of your betrayal.
When I sleep, I sleep in peace.
I have dropped my burdens like pretenses,
washed the dust, and blood, and tears.
My sorrow gives out from sheer exhaustion.
It is not your voice that cries out:
inri, inri, inri among the crowds.
You are going home. It is
your voice that pierces,
behold your son. Words settle
Do not cling to me.