“Mary” by Philip Appleman

Years later, it was, after everything

got hazy in my head – those buzzing flies,

the gossips, graybeards, hustling evangelists –

they wanted facts, they said,

but what they were really after,

was miracles.

Miracles, imagine! I was only a girl

when it happened, Joseph

acting edgy and claiming

it wasn’t his baby – – –

Anyway, years later

they wanted miracles, like the big-time cults

up in Rome and Athens, God

come down in a shower of coins,

a sexy swan, something like that.

But no, there was only

one wild-eyed man at our kitchen window

telling me I’m lucky.

And pregnant.

I said, “Talk sense mister, it’s got to be

the one thing or the other.”

No big swans, no golden coins

in that grubby mule-and-donkey village. Still,

they wanted miracles,

and what could I tell them? He

was my baby, after all, I washed

his little bum, was I

supposed to think I was wiping

God Almighty?

But they wanted miracles, kept after me

to come up with one: “This fellow at the window,

did he by any chance have wings?”

Wings! Do frogs have wings?

Do camels fly?

They thought it over. “Cherubim”, they said,

“may walk the earth like men

and work their wonders.”

I laughed in their hairy faces. No

cherub, that guy! But

they wouldn’t quit – fanatics, like

the gang he fell in with years ago’

all goading him till he began to believe

in quick cures and faith healing,

just like the cranks in Jerusalem, every

phony in town speaking in tongues

and handling snakes. Not exactly

what you’d want for your son, is it?

I tried to warn him, but he just says,

“I must be about my father’s business.”

“Fine,” I say, “I’ll buy you a new

hammer.” But nothing could stop him, already

hooked on the crowds, the hosannas,

the thrill of needling the bureaucrats.

Holier than thou, he got, roughing up

the rabbis even. Every night

I cried myself to sleep – my son,

my baby boy – – –

You know how it all turned out, the crunch

of those awful spikes,

the spear in his side, the whole town watching,

home-town folks come down from Nazareth

with a strange gleam in their eyes. Then later on

the grave robbers, the hucksters, the imposters all

claiming to be him. I was sick

for a year, his bloody image

blurring the sunlight.

And now they want miracles, God

at my maidenhead, sex without sin.

“Go home,” I tell them, “back to your libraries,

read about your fancy Greeks,

and come up with something amazing, if you must.”

Me, I’m just a small-town woman,

a carpenter’s wife, Jewish mother, nothing

special. But listen,

whenever I told my baby a fairy tale,

I let him know it was a fairy tale.

Go, all of you, and do likewise.

From JRT’s blog HT Shuck and Jive


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