Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Just You

[Just You]


Her son dead
Mary abandons care
Walks days to the naked mountain.

No trees, god said in a fit of rage—
So said the Romans who stripped them.

At the foot of the mountain,
Hundreds of stone babies,
The size of one,
The heft of three:
There is a howling in their midst.

One by one,
She carries each to the mountaintop:
Still the howling rages in her ears,
The rage of mute stone children,
The rage of a woman past caring
Caring still.

Each in her shawl,
Rage a mute witness.
The third day her feet are bleeding:
There are hundreds yet to go.

Nights she sleeps under dark moons, glacial stars.
A season changes before all are on the mount,
Blind stone nursery at her feet.
She thinks of her son,
His baskets of fish,
Her winnowed soul.

For two days she sleeps,
Wakes to howling ceased:
One babe cries in its stead.

She is too weary to stop the care that rises in her breast.
Slowly, slowly, she walks the stones,
Comes to the olive skin of the wailing child,
Its stone case cracked like a giant egg.
She stoops to gather him, as the aquifer rises in her chest.

Damned to care.

The babe sleeps at her naked breast.
Another two days they sleep.

Mary wakes to the sound of wind in trees,
White moon through branches,
These are thirty, forty, fifty year old trees,
Hundreds of them,
At each foot another broken stone casing.

God did not wonder at the tears,
Nor at the fires she built,
Nor the shelter she declined to.

There is no wonder at pain that twists the spine,
Loss that stills the heart.
No wonder at water rising through limestone.

The wonder was that she claimed the miracle as her own:
Him she forgot.


After three years on the mountain,
She left with the boy,
Moved to the river valley,
Clear water through leather-smooth
Cypress trees.
The boy, too,
A fish in water,
Turned nut brown by the sun.

One afternoon,
The boy turned four,
They walked to the village:
The boy’s eyes fell upon scrolls,
Hers upon the knife.

Back in the woods,
The boy drew figures in river mud;
Nights, by the fire, Mary practiced throwing
The knife into the heart of a cypress at thirty feet.

Gabriel came first,
The same whispered rustle,
The same there almost not:
He sat beside her at the fire,
Looked at the boy sleeping.

“No,” she said.
She knew she could get away with it—
He was just the messenger boy.
His rueful smile told of the more to come.

Raphael’s hand on her shoulder two nights later
She shrugged off.
“No more. I would rather die.”
She watched as he melted into the river.

“Thug,” she said,
As Michael sat down
Beside the sleeping boy.
She set the knife upon
The rock between them.

“Of course. His bulldog.”

Adding, “I swear,
By all that’s left within me,
I’ll take your heart and both your wings.”

Michael nodded at the gouged tree behind him.
Not fear, but sadness, drove him off.

Three months passed,
Enough time to begin to think she was free again.
After four months, she released the boy from her shawl,
Let him sleep down by the river.

Then one morning, in the mist,
She woke to Jesse.
Scarred at hand and foot.
No begging in his eye,
The look of what was his to take.

“Even you—even you, my son,
I will cut.”

The boy woke:
Moved instinctively to the scarred man.

Mary felt her lungs collapse:
She knew too well the seductions
Of the sunlit world.

The boy stopped:
Saw the blade at his mother’s belly.
Even Jesse’s cool was unnerved.

“Him,” she said. “Send Him.”

“You know—”

“Not even you, Jesse. I lost you already. This knife runs deeper.”


Two nights later,
Tremors in the ground,
Clouds covered the night’s icy sky.

Mary spoke to the trembling darkness around her:

“Not your tricks, old man. Just you.”

The trembling stopped. He sat across the fire from her.

“One was not enough?” she said.

“They’re all mine, sister.” Paused a moment. “You’re mine.”

“Dead, I’m yours.”

The old man looked intently at his fingers,
Bit off a sliver of nail, spit. It stuck
To his lower lip.

“Dead don’t mean nuthin’ to me.”

“Clearly, old man, but you’ve eaten your last of mine.”

“No one is coerced.”


He rose, shimmering between shape and tremor. Shape reached for the boy, enough shape for the knife to stick. She had him pinned to the world; tremor flamed into mist.

Old. He felt old: too old to care, too old to annihilate what he knew to be his nemesis. Too old not to let shape win.


She bled him dry.

Dragged across the river, the vultures finished him; sun bleached his bones.

At six years of age, the boy swam him back.

The two of them walked his bones to the mountain, strung them from a tree, faint clicks in the wind.

She gathered the boy into her arms, watched the breeze catch the fingerbones of a hand.

“Nobody dies for yours. Nobody dies for mine.”

“What, then?” said the boy.

“Your own. You die for your own. Nobody else’s.”

[pmb: 8.23.2005]