MARY, MARY

Martha chopped the onions,
wiped her eyes and hands on a soft linen napkin.

She arranged olives on a plate,

stoned a basketful of dates,

kneaded the small loaves.
set them to rise by the fire.

The light slanting through the open door
cast intricate shadows on the wall.

She could hear the old raven
by the midden, calling to her brood,

human voices, indistinct,

chickens scratching in the dust.

Martha poured green oil from a jug
into a flask of paler green.

The wine cups were polished

the washing water clean,
fragrant with crushed mint and thyme.

And Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, twisting
her hands together and tapping
her foot on the floor and wrinkling
her forehead and making her mouth a frown and
she asked and asked and interrupted:
But what?  And then?  So that?  If not?

And seeing Martha at her work,
she pleaded, Dost thou not
care that my sister hath left me
to ask alone?  Bid her
therefore that she help me.
And Jesus, who saw Mary’s distraction,
said   Martha hath chosen that good part,
which shall not be taken away.

  • For Molly Bidwell

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