Madonna of the Matilijas

Looking out my window, I see the Madonna blessing the white Matilija poppy on my windowsill.  It's a showy flower  baroque petals, paper thin; glowing golden heart  the kind of thing she's used to.  They grow wild in the empty lot next door.

A hundred decades of unanswered prayers echo through my brain.  Hail Mary, full of grace…  Please let…  Please make…  Please get…  Please take…  Candles flicker; stale whiff of incense, beeswax, hair oil and perfumed soap.  Shabby coats brushed, shoes polished, hair slicked back, whatever the poor can do to impress the Queen of Heaven.

Holding my breath, I slide the long nail of my index finger, filed thin for just this purpose, beneath a scale of skin and pick it off my arm.  Geese trail sad goodbyes across a blue sky. A car honks on the street below.  Somewhere a door slams.  My collection of blue glass quivers on the sill.

Sound waves move in tiny shocks of pain across my naked skin.  Rosy welts blossom at their touch, itching, twitching, screaming to be scratched.  She watches me rip myself.  Bare-assed and blotchy, I blush beneath her tranquil gaze.

Aggravated by prickling sweat, a red itch blooms in the tender inside fold behind my elbow.  It burns and swells, demanding surcease.  Denied release, the tortured skin cracks and oozes, trickling thin rivers of platelets and plasma.  Like lengths of frayed red ribbon, they spill along my forearm, pool crimson in my up-turned palm.

Mary isn't expecting it, the scarlet spot like a bright nail hole.  A tiny tsunami travels across the fixed sweet smile; a moue of grief, a flicker of rage.  Lest she be troubled, I ease across the floor, sliding each flat sole in careful increments across the waxed boards.

There’s always water everywhere.  I pay Charlotte, the little girl downstairs, fifty cents a day to fill bath, basins, wide-mouthed jugs, bowls, pans and platters.  She tops them up once a day while I hide behind the screen in the corner.  Water sometimes drowns the itch.  I spend hours in the bath, reading and writing, sipping whisky from a jelly jar.

Reaching the nearest vessel, I plunge my arms up to the elbows.  Liquid works its magic once again.  Inundated in relief, I cry a little then lift my hands to show her.

The teapot whistles.  Startled, I flinch.  My skin tingles, nothing more.

Our Lady steps across my windowsill, brushing past the poppy to pour.  The itch subsides.  I sit naked across the table from her, sipping Earl Grey.  She speaks Spanglish with a soft lisp.  We tell knock-knock jokes and eat two jelly donuts that a small attending angel drops in her lap sometime through the second pot of tea.

She cries about the crucifixion.  I tell her about the crib death of my little boy.  It gets hazy after that.  I remember poppies in the bath water. She holds my hand while the angel pours boiling water from the teapot into the tub.  She washes me head to foot.  She swaddles me in soaking linen sheets. I sleep.

I wake to shadows.  Geese trail sad goodbyes across a pale sky.  A car honks on the street below.  Somewhere, a door slams.  My collection of blue glass quivers on the sill.  I touch my skin, soft as a baby, tender and luminous in the evening light.  Soon, I will dress myself, walk to the cathedral and light a candle.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

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About the Author

Christine Irving describes her poems as snapshots - sharply focused moments that tell a tale in a few essential words. Her favorite métier is poetry, but she also writes novels, plays and travel pieces. Christine is the author of: Be a Teller of Tales,The Naked Man, You Can Tell a Crone by Her Cackle, and Sitting on the Hag Site: A Celtic Knot of Poems. Her newest work Return to Inanna is undergoing its final proof.

Christine Irving
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