Going through old computer files yesterday, I found these Christmas poems, originally part of the manuscript that became BLACK SHAWL. I saw Mary in these pieces as being here in the NC mountains rather than being a young girl in Nazareth over 2000 years ago. The reader at LSU Press suggested they be dropped, that they functioned better as a small chapbook of poems to be published later. They've waited ever since. As well as I can remember, they were first printed years ago in a journal whose poetry editor was my friend Janice Townley Moore. The Georgia Journal, I believe was its name. Anyway, here they are again, two days before another Christmas. The photos come from sunsets in S. Georgia and holly bushes, as well as waxing and full moons, here in the mountains.
is her color
because it was always the last
thing she saw through
her window before losing
count of the heddle’s
beat. Blue hem
beyond reach, she
wearing it, skirt flaring
out of the narrow glass
where she saw turning
and turning her own image
till in a swoon
she might gather up into the blue
lap of heaven
the stars and the moon
as if they were no more than
the first fruits of May,
the wild strawberries
she loved to eat as she carried
them home to her table.
She cannot hold her bonnet
against it and lets go
the sashes. A kite of blue
calico sails away over
the fields while a child laughs
and points at the spectacle,
blustery March making light
of her modesty till not a hairpin’s
left clinging, her heavy braids
tumbling like bell-ropes
around her. So here she stands,
skirt swelling forth in its manifold
emptiness, as if she’s come
to the edge of a sea
and hears far out a voice
calling, gull maybe,
though she lives nowhere near
water and she knows her name
is not BEATA.
OH MARIA, MARIS STELLA
what have we made of you,
when you were happy enough to be nursing
your baby, ignoring the tumult of heaven,
the scuffle of shepherd’s feet.
Wise men on camels meant little to you,
their frankincense, myrrh.
You could take it or leave it.
What good would it do you
whose only concern was the milk you felt
slowly beginning to thicken your breasts?
Or the worry that Joseph had not eaten,
you should have brought along more
of your grandmother’s journey-cake,
more of her dried figs and almonds.
No seafarer's daughter, you grew up
to quail at the stories of drowning men
merchants brought back from the sea ports,
for you were no braver than most women.
You liked to think of yourself as a drop
in the Lord’s deep and, save for a scribe’s
error, you might have stayed "stilla maris"
forever. You had no desire to be star
to whom mariners cried out
for centuries, struggling to grab
hold your sleeve as they’re sinking.
looking out at the straggle
of sheepherders leading their flock
to the hovel where you are still groggy
from childbirth. You wish they would go away,
seek out some other to worship,
for you are too tired to look blessed.
But it is expected of you.
Now and for two thousand years you must
lift up your eyes from your infant
and hear us out, bearing
such words as could almost make you
believe you are beautiful.
And what of you, Joseph? Still lost in the barn
shadows, stroking your beard
while the curious goats crowd about her,
as if they have already guessed who she is,
not just any poor country girl born
to the tending of livestock. When she calls,
you do not go near.
Is the sight of such bringing forth
more than you fear you can bear?
Not to mention her blood
and the odor of animal everywhere.
All night you stand in the dark stall knowing
your name never crosses
her lips. How much longer before you will go
to her, man enough at last to look
upon God in His baffling dependency?