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The Foot of Mary Magdalene

Silver, glass, bone

the church of San Giovanni Battista, Rome

When they were set afloat

in a boat without sail or rudder

in the sea off of Galilee—

their lord dead, risen, and gone—

it wasn’t a metaphor.

The sea shone hot and greasy

with summer. Fish perhaps

leapt up ladders of their own

bodies to climb into the mouths

of Magdalene, Lazarus still

stinking of death, and Martha,

her servant heart waiting

to be called.

Some people say

they landed in France, some

in Ephesus, that place of mystery.

Some people say Magdalene

lived thirty years in a cave,

was fed bread and water

through the window by Martha

until her body became a box

of glass.

Or she was raised

into the sky by an angelic chorus

and fed the nectar of heaven

that tasted of certainty and stone.

Or she traveled to Rome and

brought an egg to Caesar

Tiberius, a red egg. Rebirth

and all that.

But after her death

they divided her, these

same people, a tooth there,

a jawbone here, her arm

in London. But here in

Rome rests her foot:

elegant, thin, silver-bronze

as scales, frozen and glamorous

as a fish made of stone.

Such division was unsurprising.

Mary, really, she was used

to it. But back in the boat,

their feet burning on the hot

staves, they are still wondering,

the three of them, where they will

land, what they will do without him.

The hot sun, the water, and still

the fish leap into their mouths

like answers to questions

they have not yet learned to ask.

from Museum of Objects Burned by the Souls in PurgatoryFind more by Jeffrey Thomson at the library

Copyright © 2022 Jeffrey Thomson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Jeffrey Thomson Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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