Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Elizabeth and Mary, by Kathleen Jones

This week the Tuesday poets are participating in a not-so-secret Santa exchange. We have all been paired off to exchange gifts in the form of poems. My partner is Kathleen Jones who generously sent me a fine selection of poems to choose from. They were all excellent poems, but I chose "Elizabeth's Story" in deference to the season.

Kathleen says:
"As a child I was brought up with all the bible stories and even then I kept wondering what the real, human story was behind them. As a mother myself, I began to wonder how these two women had really felt to have what were then thought of as delinquent children who grew up to be such rebels that they became criminalised and were both executed by the governments of the day - Jesus on the orders of Rome and John by Herod. Elizabeth and Mary both lived through the massacres and purges of the times, protecting their children by either fleeing as refugees (Mary to Egypt) or in Elizabeth's case hiding her baby. There are several instances in the old testament where menstruating women (regarded as unclean until ritually purified) managed to conceal things and evade detection, so I used this scenario for Elizabeth concealing John, but this is speculation on my part! John's execution was particularly sad, as he was Elizabeth's only child, born when she was over forty."

Elizabeth's Story

You were my first-born, late-born son.
A gift
concealed beneath my skirt
when Herod's men stood at the door -
like Rachel
crouching on the stool
that kept her stolen birthright,
claiming Custom of Women.

And certainly
I smelt of woman's mysteries,
the birth-blood and the milk

And John
swaddled between my thighs
as if waiting for another birth.

A miracle.

These were the family infections -
miraculous births,
familiarity with angels,
a subversive streak.

My kinswoman and I were powerful women
who practised our own rebellions,
kept our own counsels.

We had imagined our sons differently,
taking their fathers' places.
But hers, already turning
water into wine,
disputing the prophets
with the priests,

and mine
(she grieved with me)
choosing the wilderness
beyond the Jordan,
living on locusts
and wild honey.


Kathleen lives in England near the Lake District but is currently stranded in London, hoping to find some way of getting to Italy to spend Christmas with her partner, the sculptor Neil Ferber. Unfortunately her flight from Heathrow has been cancelled due to snow. Kathy, I hope you make it!

Cancellations seem to be a feature for Kathleen this year, as she was in Christchurch for the Writers Festival in September which was cancelled due to the earthquake. She was to speak about her biography of the writer Katherine Mansfield.

For more poetry on Tuesday, visit the Tuesday Poem hub site here. All the Tuesday poets are linked there in the sidebar.


Al said...

Thank you for sharing that lovely poem. Kathleen's pieces are always beautifully crafted.

Helen Lowe said...

Well crafted, as Al says, and I like this slant into the more familiar story.

Joseph Harker said...

Elizabeth never turns up enough in literature... an honorable telling of her story. "The family infections" are an amusing way of looking at it; they certainly did seem to have an interesting time, didn't they?

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a lovely idea for a Christmas gift exchange! I enjoyed reading Kathleen's poem! Happy Christmas!