Two days my husband lay dying, still and blind.
When it was finished, my oldest son went out alone
into the hills cutting like iron against the stars.
Now he returns, thin as wind.
Now begins his father’s work.
He sits with his friends
while the lamps burn out.
They talk, they talk;
they eat my bread
and drink my wine
Elizabeth is dead.
Dying she laughed,
Fill no cup
he drinks no wine.
But I want wine
for my thirst is great.
There is no more.
Now is the time
for me to call my son
by his dark name.
She does not stop her work to look, to speak,
her shuttle a white bird across her loom.
Twelve years ago the warp of her womb was ripped;
twelve years she lived torn apart and stained,
a tattered rag. Now she is rewoven.
Now she weaves a tunic without a seam.
LOAVES AND FISHES
What have I begun? What shall I do?
The sun pours itself into the sky.
Once only the cock crows.
He weeps like a child with his face in his hands.
John is dead–Elizabeth’s joke and song.
I wash his feet. He will not rest
but return to his frightened friends.
What I can do, I do.
Five loaves of bread and some fish in a basket:
I give him what I have.
Martha spreads the figs in rows.
Mary strews them in spirals,
singing a children’s song.
Sara’s small daughters make dolls of clay.
Three days in the sun
and all will be dry;
I will not dry so soon.
Today an old woman
withered to a shell,
her thin bones bending
under the weight of air,
drew a blessing from her well
and my old womb
remembered its work.
Old woman with the sky
on your back, smoothing
the stones with your steps,
your words are springs of water
in my wilderness.
I too am old, and yet
I live to bless.
She scrabbles in the dust before me,
too frightened to weep, as shredded as her clothes.
Blood dries on the corner of her mouth,
her arms and face swollen and bruised.
Wild gold hair covers her like dead grass–
with my fingers I smooth the ragged strands.
When she can breathe, when she can speak, she asks
me of my son, and I tell her where he is.
They know me in that house, she says, as well
as men can know. In shame they’d see me dead.
And I remember Joseph’s face,
his hands, his lips in my hair.
I feed her bread and wine;
I give her myrrh, the alabaster flask–
last treasure of the kings. I have no more.
She runs from my house. She does not look back.
Her hair floats like a veil of flame.
Dust swirls in clouds around her dusty feet.
My son climbs the mountain, man-shape of light
against the black and churning sky. I climb
within him: the dust that gave him flesh.
Smothered in dry and heavy air–
a mountain, barren, cold, and stone–
I think that I would like to die.
My son has no shelter from this storm.
I give him all my strength, my blood.
I see him in shadow, hear him in silence.
The great bird broods silent over all
and that voice I know from old begins to speak.