Stabat Mater

la pieta

Did you mourn him, mother?
Did you cry?
When they took him down,
or after – borne away
by half a dozen hands.
Were your hands one of them?
Or could you not bear to touch?

Did you cling, or
did you stand apart –
silent, or
directing their touch –
hold his head that hangs
and hold his arms
and lift his feet that drag
and place a cloth over his cool face,
place a cloth: he used to like that
when he was small.

Did they have to wrest him from you,
gently,
wrest him from your arms
as they laid him down?
Or did you watch the silent descent,
gentle,
silent descent down to the cool stone,
wrapped white in the figure of a man
who was once your son.

And no longer.
The outline of a face
marked here and there with blood.
Once a face now covered over,
limp and seeping crimson
against white.
You saw a lamb like that once,
mauled by a wolf in the wild.

Did the apostle carry you home,
or did you carry him?
A dozen ashen faces staring
at you in the dusk.
Minus one.

Did they touch you,
perhaps for comfort – or their own?
Hands and fingers at your cloak:
what now, mother?
Now that your son is gone?

And you alone in your silent room:
Did you cry then, or was it too much?
A sob half-caught in your throat,
a howl seeping into darkness with a moan.
Did you fall to your knees, or
topple a chair –
rage the friend of ragged despair.
Head in your hands, and
tears flattened against palms,
shaking, or
absolutely still. Were you?
Absolutely wordless and absolutely
still?

What words anyway,
and what prayers?
A single phrase building
in your chest like burning sand,
choking away the sound:
prayer of the barren desert,
prayer hot and stretched to endless borders,
prayer of Rachel, who refuses to be comforted,
because her children are dead.

Did you mourn him, mother?
In the dark with a single candle,
soft orange tinting edges gold,
a devastated sanctuary
with unguarded doors.

Did you stand in the night, mother,
strained face guilded at shifting angles,
motionless yet taut?
Keeping watch.
Like long ago with the angel –
mother, what were you waiting for?

Anne M. Carpenter

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