Stabat Mater

Fragment of a larger piece yet to be written.

The mother was beside herself
with grief–that’s all we know.
My gaze shifts from one to the other:
the original an image of no-nonsense domesticity
& self-possession, & then the one in black
with the blurred edges flickering
like a candle in the wind. She must
lose her composure, to say the least:
the classical distances between each feature
collapse, or are warped by discord.
Tears will have made a gray muddle
of eye shadow (kohl) & carved gullies
into the foundation on her cheeks, & at first
she trembled so violently, no single embrace
could possibly have absorbed the shock.
I would have had to brace myself against
the nearest wall, which might have seemed
solid enough, held up as it was
by so many others, & behind them,
all the so-called laws of physics.
Or that seeming tree that the soldiers planted
after they bulldozed the groves of ancient olives
where terrorists hid–I might have wedged
one sandal against its base. But think
back to your time in the Far East:
the apartment building would start to sway
in the middle of some innocuous conversation
about the weather, the wine would dance
in the glasses & everyone would grab
onto the table with both hands, as if that
would help. The throat goes dry, &
you begin to pray almost automatically
because words offer at least a semblance
of escape–an Indian rope trick
leading out of that void in the abdomen
where wisdom is supposed to take root.
And I can still picture the big one
that rocked us awake one morning
around 4:00, & we all ran out into the street
& watched the lampposts bowing to nobody
& heard the sound of glass shattering
& before it even hit the sidewalk, the sirens going off
one after another. You wouldn’t call that
a wail, would you–though our ears
insist on an anthropomorphic world.
You wouldn’t say unearthly, ungodly,
as if they meant the same thing.
The mother still stands.
You would keep your distance.

One Reply to “Stabat Mater”

  1. the one in black
    with the blurred edges flickering
    like a candle in the wind.


    (Yes, you did mess with tenses—a very different experience when it’s done with purpose and meaning in mind.)

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