Authors and Poets
Authors and Poets

Photos used with permission from the Academy of American Poets

Last updated:
April 19, 2018
Lori M. Cameron, editor

St. Ann – Nina Tassi

Fall 1999, vol. 3, no. 2

She already knew, her face
shadowed in silence,
watching her daughter Mary,
bud of a girl still,
unfasten, let her shift slip down,
draw the infant’s head to her breast
to suckle Jesus, lusty in his hunger;
she already knew as she smiled
at Mary’s surprised wince when the child
took the nipple with such fury, sucked so hard,
drew milk from her so fiercely, knew what lay ahead.
Ann leaned over and lifted with gently hand
her daughter’s milky breast,
showed her how to make of it a cone
so that the child’s full lusty lips
could take in the whole swollen areola.
She knew as she saw her daughter’s hand tremble,
cradling the baby’s downy head,
eyes shut tight in bliss as he sucked,
knew even as Mary’s eyes lifted
in slow contented gesture to her mother,
their smiles wisps of love between them,
and Mary, only a young girl herself, relaxed
as the child, satisfied, tumbled back and lay
across her knees, lips parted in milky chortles,
chubby feet aloft.
The knowing had come to her
when Mary was seven,
sloe-eyed, olive skin fragrant of almonds,
a child risen from the still earth,
seedling planted surely,
quick to raise eyes love-brimmed to Ann,
who breathed in her daughter’s scent like air.
That day in the garden
as Mary leaned over the well
drawing water, dark hair falling forward,
Ann touched her child at the nape of her neck,
and across her shoulder blades,
and she felt in those small bones
the weight and burden of what lay ahead,
and seeing her daughter’s face in the water,
felt cascading over herself the waters of knowing,
yet impossible to know that forty years
separated that touch of her hand
from the moment when Mary would stand
in a pool of immense stillness,
eyes encompassing her son’s face.
Ann saw Mary standing
drowned in her son’s eyes, his face
drained of strength, mouth hanging open,
yet his eyes fixed on her,
a grown son overpassing his shame
at being seen in naked terror
by his mother, and showing her
his unbearable pain, and
Mary his mother stands
bearing his pain as she had borne him,
bearing what he laid bare to her, and
Ann felt her daughter’s breasts
shrink and wither in sorrow
during the rough slip and slide
of his body being lowered down on ropes
to Mary where she sat, knees opened wide
to make a lap broad for receiving him,
and they laid him, bones and torn flesh,
no breath in him, yet flesh still faintly warm,
across her knees where she bent over to cover him
and pull his head to her breast to shield him,
his arms falling slack to the ground.
Ann, sensing how her daughter’s hands,
her hands on his body sorrowing over him,
would move unseeing, moving on the instincts
of a mother’s entrails, and would know
that the filthy rag knotted about him
left flaccid genitals exposed, and her hands
would move to cover Jesus in his nakedness,
not yet brought and given the shroud
of aromatic linen to wrap him in.
Ann felt Mary contemplate in stillness
the stillness of his bones
as they sank down to mingle with the earth’s bones,
and saw her daughter’s face transfixed
on the face of Jesus, closed lids sunken;
she sensed that Mary, going down herself
to earth bedrock and finding there
no surcease of suffering,
would then begin to climb,
her eyes turned inward,
bearing her son’s weight as she climbed,
unseeing, unhearing, given over to contemplation.
And, cascading over her,
Ann felt that Mary in her sorrow
would not turn to her, saying
“Mother, help me bear this.”
For Mary of a sudden would be lifted up,
her soul abundant, swollen with milk,
her eyes raised up towards glory,
and would not veer, not for an instant,
to her mother’s arms aching to embrace her.
Ann knew this as a mother knows,
by the sudden sharp suck deep inside her,
telling her that she would be left empty,
stopped in the midst of heart’s gesture,
to stay on the earth, close to its smells,
sorrowing, sorrowing in silence grown immense.

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