Mary’s story

A woman broke an alabaster jar,
Emptied it over the head of a prophet.
She wept. Her tears fell on his feet.

A woman enraptured drank his words.
Her sister, cumbered with too much serving,
Complained, but nothing could move her.

A woman afflicted with seven devils
Loved the prophet for his healing,
Came to his tomb bearing spices.

Two women fuse in the last retelling:
Mary the sister of Martha oils his feet,
Soothes with unguent and her hair.

Which of these women was Mary
Called Magdalen, whether they all were,
Is anyone’s guess.


To overcome my nauseous fear of breathing
Foetid air of the leper Simon eating,
I fix my gaze on the homeless traveller
To whom my comfort comes before his bitterness.
An alabaster box of spikenard, very precious,
I break, and pour the oil upon his head.

Another time I brave the Pharisee,
Hear the whispered condemnation of his guests
Who sprawl at ease around his table –
But he whom I have come to bless
Releases me, dissolves my guilt;
His eyes reflect a love which drowns me,

Cracks my life to fragments,
Splintered images of might-have-been,
And I who once crawled lowly as an insect
Across propriety’s so scornful face
Begin to contemplate myself without revulsion,
Even dream my advent day of hope.


The men have vanished …
The women watch silently.
So far forgetting themselves and their duty
As to trail a madman around the countryside,
The authorities consider them hardly worth questioning.

He enters a state where they cannot follow him:
His focus fixed on the process of dying.
He is leaving them now, and at resurrection
His body will need no more of their tenderness.
When he is dead, they witness the burying.


They wrote of our bewilderment, that emptiness we knew,
As though an earthquake happened – some man in white
Descending from the clouds to roll the stone away.
All we felt was blankness, an aching apprehension
That even after death our love was interfered with.
We carried spices to disguise his putrefaction,
Caress him in a final act of love –
Even that small comfort had been snatched.
We had to make what sense we could of what we found –
Traces in a garden of the man we cared for.
Vaguely I remember kissing bloodstained feet,
Soaking up his suffering with my hair.


©Virginia Rounding, 1992


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