She sits at his feet
oil lamps burning low on a table
after a late supper, the fading sun
painting the sand a deeper purple
than the Tetrarch's riding-coat.
She sits, her knees raising
mountains in her robe while Martha hums
disapproval in the kitchen, an irregular wasp,
clattering a twelve-tone canticle between
unwashed dishes and leftovers:
"Slow! Slow! You are so very slow,
you never lift a finger for yourself
or anyone! I'll make you pay for this
when our friends have gone."
On and on and yet, she does not mind;
bees sting but they make honey, and you could
swim within his pupils, chase fireflies
catch each one against your sticky palms
forever in the sunset. She knows because
men push past her in the market place
as she reaches for the dates and fish,
unconcerned and ever going somewhere else
"Martha," he turns his eyes to her,
who steps beneath the lintels
of kings and dead men, suffers her so much
that he looks in her eyes as he speaks
of things she does not understand.
The fire is low when Martha enters
ruddy hands sloughing the thin paste of flour
on the apron at her waist, and her lips buzz
"Well, what did you expect, dessert?
after all you've haven't done?"
hands resting in his lap, and she looks through the window
where the porphyr plains stretch like a cloak
beneath the splinter moon.
"Martha, let her choose the better part.
We're all friends here."
She didn't understand until the day
a woman with her name rushed through the door
speaking of rolling stones and empty graves.
She never opened legs, peach ripe
to nameless, hungry harvesters.
That came later, in silent halls
where blood-robed men pronounced
her falling and rising a sacrament,
their diadems sharper than the voices
lining her skull with flax seeds.
As a child, her father beat her with a cane
made from a gnarled fig branch; ten stroke each time
she spilled her food and rolled in it or held
dark conversations with the clouds. When she was young
they kept her, though they grumbled, in the kitchen
hands in the bread and roots until the day
she cracked a ladle on her mother's cheek and cried
three hours, unable to explain what legion
gripped her flowing hair. Soon after that
the cane splintered on her swollen back,
and she was asked to leave. So, she ran until
her feet bleed dry from scabs and scarab bites.
She never could explain what happened next,
except there were no trumpets, no visions
No god in the machine. There was the dirt,
and then, warm fingers on her chin. She fought but they
insisted, lifting her into two black boxes lit by moons
where nightmares ceased, and the ghosts were tamed.
When she awoke again, he'd sat her in the roots of some
great gnarled fig, a hand on her shoulder, the breeze
in her unveiled hair. She did not understand
why her weary feet could steady when the stranger said
"Stand", how she followed him through fire,
why she alone of all slept at the foot of his tomb
in the April sun.
She always knew that he could not belong to her
the same as other boys playing in the dirt.
These would stretch out, become creatures
of limbs and shy looks, cutting themselves
on saws and balsa wood in the crafting of
their first lopsided chair. But he -
how many mothers had such reassurance? A pity
she seldom felt assured. Whatever crown he wore
beyond this world, he still tripped on roots
and cried when his knee bled, her gentle 'hush'
making no difference. He caught agues,
and when he took his first step, he fell down
so startled, as if he'd seen his first bird fly
and found no name for it, until "sparrow" as she knelt
beside him in a pool of azure robes. He smiled and said
he understood, but he forgot again.
She watched him now
an olive tree bent low over the sleeping stranger
eyes anticipating wolves and felt the truth
glide over her like a crow's wing; for all the world,
some day he would fall down and her thin arms
would never raise him. But now, he was a boy
beset by nightmares. So she stroked his curls
and sang the song her mother taught her first
when the shores flooded, and the fishermen came home
with heavy nets.
JoSelle Vanderhooft's poetry and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jabberwocky, Mythic, Aoife's Kiss, Star*line, Not One of Us and others. Her first novel, The Tale of the Miller's Daughter, was released in June, 2006 by Papaveria press. Her second novel, Owl Skin, will be released this December, also from Papaveria. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and thinks that mangos are the best fruit God ever created.
Marge Simon continues to survive in the swamp known as Ocala, deep in the Florida Everglades. She's been sighted running through the cypress screaming "Nevermore!" but she keeps coming back anyway to edit Star*Line, journal of the SF Poetry association.
She says ...
"Cherry" reminds me of Santa's nose in "The Night Before Christmas". Or the song lyrics, "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White". Or the little known poem, "I'm in the cherry pits of life without you."
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