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After the prayers were spoken,
the hymns sung and your casket closed,
we followed you—Father and I—
through the courtyard blooms
of an early Midwest spring, past
the iron Jesus, blessing without ceasing,
onto the street of too-bright sky,
where the men then turned
and passed to Father your long, silver necklace
(worn always with the dress)
your earrings made of pearl,
and your wedding band; passed,
in the knowing way that men pass tips,
from hand to hand.
At twelve, I played Mary
in a community Christmas pageant.
I saw you at the service, people said.
I saw you with your baby,
riding your donkey. A real donkey,
led by some boy. Older boy.
Fourteen at least. I don’t remember
his name or if I even knew it
at the time. Just that I couldn’t look at him.
Couldn’t look straight at him
without blushing and lowering my eyes.
Everyone said I made a great Mary.
That I did a great job being
the one God descended upon. No,
not descended upon. Entered.
That I did a great job being the one
God entered. And who
afterwards called it holy.
The boy is important, the visiting poet said.
Immensely important. The center of the poem,
he said. Her desire for him is the center of the poem,
the dramatic center. Her desire for him is
what this poem is about. This much is clear:
She desires him. The girl riding a donkey
desires him, the boy, the dramatic center.
You need to build him up more,
he continued. Give him a name, good looks,
maybe a touch of acne. Help us to see him,
to see the real center of this poem.
To see into the center; to see inside her
desire. Help us to get inside—
inside the blushing and the lowering.
Tell us how blue his eyes are, how dark his hair,
how straight and perfect his
nose. We need to see him. The center
of her desire. Unless, of course, you are striving
(striving!) to create an aura of mystery—
an illusion of mystery—like you would
if you were talking about, say, God.
Lisa Dordal (M.Div., M.F.A.) teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Robert Watson Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals including Best New Poets, CALYX, The Greensboro Review, Vinyl Poetry, and The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Mosaic of the Dark, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. For more information, please visit her website: lisadordal.com.
“Commemoration” was previously published in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, p. 121, V. 26, N. 1, Spring, 2010