The Seven Sorrows
Yes, she knows/doesn’t know:
those small lips that suckle and cry,
hiccup and sigh, will one day scream,
“Eli eli lama sabachthani.” Her mama heart,
already crowded with ponderings,
has only enough room for nursing and burping,
for counting the toes of the Sacred—
such human rituals a daily salvation. But this talk
of suffering made real by old Simeon,
by ancient Anna, oh her heart
pierced with such reminders of Death
(hers/ours) cut down and erected as cross
on which her wee one, her darling,
her beloved boy will resurrect such grief.
Even in her faithful acceptance, she weeps.
Oh, she weeps.
That envious “King of the Jews” afraid
of a baby. Even as they are fleeing,
she knows his shadow stalking their footsteps,
his power-hungry arm raised in slaughter,
his soldiers bathed in the blood of innocents
she might know. All day, she holds her son close,
covers his ears at each painful howl of the jackal
so like an infant’s cry, so like her haunted dreams
that keep them cowering in caves
all the way to Egypt where, even then,
she wakes to the scream of those other
mothers, the ones not warned,
the ones cradling their dead.
Three days dead/not dead. Not even
the beggars have seen him. She lives
between death and resurrection, his absence
precursor to Golgotha, the dank tomb
come early. Twelve years he’d listened,
followed them from here to there. Now
he is gone. Surely, she prays, he is somewhere
on these dusty roads, bouncing between
families on the long caravan to home.
Surely, he can hear her cries,
can call out to heal their dis-
and the silent sun,
she cloaks herself in worry.
“Why,” he asks
at the temple
with his surprised eyes
“did you not know?”
His whip-stained back, his blood-striped brow,
the splintered heft of the world that betrayed him
balanced now on shoulders too weak
to carry even his own bludgeoned body—
it all crushes her. On the long road
to Place of the Skull,
crowded with jeers and accusations,
they stumble together.
It is too much and not enough
—his thin chest heaving—
to see his sunken eyes see her,
grieve for her grief for him.
“Behold your mother,” he says to John,
and it will be his emaciated arms
also that hold her into old age,
just as they hold her now
even at the moment of his dying,
even at the moment Death loses
its gruesome sting below the dark
mourning of the lonely, broken sky.
And now she
cradles him—his bruised
flesh stretched across
her familiar lap, stretched across
his unbroken bones, limbs limp
in the pitch-black mid-day
of the soul, the bloody moon blinded. No
polished marble, this Pietà
before the Pietà, all that is
left of her tears streaming
from his pierced side, from the now
un-nailed hands she holds
All her sorrows lead here:
clean linen, heavy stone, dead son.
There is only this garden of grief
stinking of myrrh and memory.
When the soldiers seal the sepulcher,
her spirit is the shroud that clings
to the slaughtered sacrifice who once
was her joy, who will be again
in time. She tries, with her crucified heart,
to believe this. She tries.
To the God-daughter, who forgave you
for missing her life, “See,”
she says, “I am still here,
and would you like some new soles
for those shoes? Or inserts
to add comfort to the daily? I am good
at my job and would love to help
you.” She is
beautiful and generous
and so like God, you can’t wait
to untie all your laces
right there and then,
and you do,
Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize, Lock Haven University English Professor Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation and True, False, None of the Above—What She Was Saying (prose); children’s books; Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania(co-editor); Presence (assistant editor). See www.marjoriemaddox.com.