Patriotic pieces from the Great War/Mary
Permission of the Yale Review, New Haven, Conn.
Mary! I'm quite alone in all the world,
Into this bright sharp pain of anguish hurled.
Death's plunged me deep in hell, and given me wings
For terrible strange vastnesses; no hand
In all this empty spirit-driven space; I stand
Alone and whimpering in my soul. I plod
Among wild stars, and hide my face from God.
God frightens me. He's strange. I know Him not,
And all my usual prayers I have forgot:
But you—you had a son—I remember now.
You are not Mary of the virgin brow.
You agonized for Jesus. You went down
Into the ugly depths for him. Your crown
Is my crown. I have seen you in the street,
Begging your way for broken bread and meat:
I've seen you in trams, in shops, among old faces,
Young eyes, brave lips, broad backs, in all the places
Where women work, and weep, in pain, in pride.
Your hands were gnarled that held him when he died,
Not the fair hands that painters give you, white
And slim. You never had such hands: and night
And day you labored, night and day, from child
To woman. You were never soft and mild,
But strong-limbed, patient, brown-skinned from the sun,
Deep-bosomed, brave-eyed, holy, holy One!
I know you now! I seek you, Mary! Spread
Your compassionate skirts; I bring to you my dead.
This was my man. I bore him. I did not know
Then how he crowned me, but I felt it so.
He was my all the world. I loved him best
When he was helpless, clamoring at my breast.
Mothers are made like that. You'll understand
Who held your Jesus helpless in your hand,
And loved his impotence. But as he grew
I watched him, always jealously; I knew
Each line of his young body, every tone
Of speech; his pains, his triumphs were my own.
I saw the down come on his cheeks, with dread,
And soon I had to reach to hold his head
And stroke his mop of hair. I watched his eyes
When women crossed his ways, and I was wise
For him who had no wisdom. He was young,
And loathed my care, and lashed me with youth's tongue.
Splendidly merciless, casual of age, his scorn
Was sweet to me of whom his strength was born.
Besides, when he was more than six feet tall
He kept the smile he had when he was small.
And still no woman had him. I was glad
Of that—and then—O God! The world ran mad!
Almost before I knew this noise was war
Death and not women took the son I bore!
You'll know him when you see him: first of all
Because he'll smile that way when he was small.
And then his eyes! They never changed from blue
To duller gray, as other children's do,
But, like his little dreams, he kept his eyes
Vivid, and very clear, and vision-wise.
Seek for him, Mary! Bright among the ghosts
Of other women's sons he'll star those hosts
Of shining boys. (He always topped his class
At school.) Lean forward, Mary, as they pass,
And touch him. When you see his eyes you'll weep
And think him your own Jesus. Let him sleep
In your deep bosom, Mary, then you'll see
His lashes, how they curl, so childishly;
You'll weep again, and rock him on your heart
As I did once, that night we had to part.
He'll come to you all bloody and bemired,
But let him sleep, my dear, for he'll be tired,
And very shy. If he'd come home to me
I wouldn't ask the neighbors in to tea....
He always hated crowds.... I'd let him be....
And then perhaps you'll take him by the hand,
And comfort him from fear when he must stand
Before God's dreadful throne; then, will you call
That boy whose bullet made my darling fall,
And take him in your other hand and say—
"O God, whose Son the hands of men did slay,
These are Thy children who do take away the sins of the world...."