By Ralph Monday
Ephesus or Jerusalem two worlds
where they say Assumption delivered me
into the divine arms of the father
and the son. Yet, this dark place embraces
me as a shroud, dim, dank, Solomon’s
sheol. Votives are offered at many feasts
where I am worshipped as mother to the
tomb. Plain Nazarene girl, how did holy
charges make of a mother, virgin, queen
of heaven, this dreadful burden I must
bear—receptacle of god’s unknown flesh,
ground under a desert knuckle, burning
bush singeing beyond centuries’ horizons?
I am not the first. Mortal women’s wombs
have long been claimed by gods indifferent
to purchase without coin. This land has birthed
their dripping waters from women’s mute cries,
legs bloody and spread expelling divine
seed since the time when gods walked the earth or
retired to unchanging heaven. Vessel
maidens, urn pots, papyrus upon which
blind disciples that followed stitched man’s plea
into the bones, blood, eternal flowing
stream—chalice, cauldron, goblet our
open sex. This determined fate: Consort
of many, mother to all, woman to none.
Artemis is step-sister unwillingly
usurped. Her hand-me-downs became fashions
shining as brightly as fool’s gold lusted
after by a blind magpie—my garment
skin of gods and hallowed specters.
This silenced the drums, the naked frenzies
of fertility unbridled, brought the
sun to my brow, Madonna crowned with light.
I, mere woman, never sought destruction
of ancient breasts. This false metempsychosis
a bitter root covering tree, rock and stream.
Better to have remained eating baked fare,
not the wine turned to blood, dead flesh to bread.
Egypt’s queen with husband and child also
preceded my incarnation. Borrowed
Madonna in painting and sculpture, the
marvelous haloed infant, world savior,
not knowing I would flee Calvary’s hill,
turn my back upon the unfulfilled promise
of the tomb while anonymous scribes
wrote the script of centuries, their tale
that of unrequited men, not the woman’s song.
This dark place will not know heaven’s fable.
Men’s upturned faces shall see only bare rock.
This my annunciation: I did not
mean to bring into the world this terrible sorrow.
Ralph Monday is Associate Professor of English at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN. He has published hundreds of poems in over 50 journals. A chapbook, All American Girl and Other Poems, was published in July 2014. A book, Empty Houses and American Renditions, was published May 2015 by Aldrich Press. A Kindle chapbook, Narcissus the Sorcerer, was published June 2015 by Odin Hill Press.