If faith is a tree that sorrow grows
and women, repentant or not, are swamps,
a man who comes for solace here
will be up to his knees and slow
getting out. A name can turn on anyone.
But say that a woman washes the dust
from a stranger’s feet
and sits quite dry-eyed in front
of her mirror at night.
The candle flame moves with her breath, as does
the hand of the painter, who sees in the flame
his chance for virtuosity. She lets him leave
her shoulder bare.
Bedlam’s distilled from a Mary too,
St. Mary’s of Bethlehem, shelter
for all the afflicted and weak
of mind. The donors conceived of as magi
no doubt. The mad and the newborn
serve equally well for show.
A whore with a heart, the rich
with a conscience, the keepers of language
and hospitals badly embarrassed at times
by their charge. The mirror refuses
the candle, you see. And tears on another’s behalf
the mirrors he’s pleased to regard.
Who loves his ironies buxom and grave
must hate the foolish water of her eyes.