Stella Nesanovich is the author of four chapbooks of poems: A Brightness That Made My Soul Tremble: Poems on the Life of Hildegard of Bingen, My Mother’s Breath, My Father’s Voice, and Dance, O, Heart, Double Round: Poems on Mechthild of Magdeburg as well as a full-length collection, Vespers at Mount Angel. She is Professor Emerita of English from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her website is Nesanovich.com.
The Blue Island
For weeks I have walked among shades,
waking to their voices. In dreams
my great grandmother, Louisa,
strolls her native island, enchanted
by lush hydrangeas, their blue haze
above the ocean’s rim.
In her needlework I inherited
no blue flowers: russet silk
with yellow and coral petals,
slender leaves of pale green
as if faded from memory.
Wedded to a Sicilian
near the port of their arrival,
I imagine they met in passage.
What traits did he admire
in this woman whose face I know
only from a photograph?
Was it her strength and faith?
My mother said she smoked cheroots,
sought to bring nuns to teach
in her new home.
Among Louisa’s things—hobnail cruets,
china, an ornate pier mirror—
her eighteen-karat cross I cherish most.
The Irish Gift
My mother’s words could spill
like sweet cream, surprise
like the first bite of frosting.
“Well, I declare,” she sighed,
hearing a bit of news. The youngest,
I was “always” her “baby.”
Then her lightning-bolt
figures: I was “boring
as thatch,” “vaccinated
with a phonograph needle.”
“Blessed is the corpse
the rain falls on!” when rain marred
a funeral. Only the Irish, a friend said,
would have such an adage.
When Christmas brought me home at midnight
where family drunks sprawled asleep,
my father said Dimps was “boxed out,”
Joy “lit up like a Jewish cathedral.”
I learned to give myself to quiet
attention to their words, odd
metaphors for life’s puzzles.
It’s as if they are still talking.
I have been sent to bed, yet wait
in the hallway, listening. A door left ajar
never fully closes.
Following Mary in Passion Week
I. The Seder
Only the tattered disciples,
the meal unsettled by questions
of coming betrayal: her son,
the servant to servants.
She knows about serving. Waiting
in shadows, she ponders
his kneeling to wash their feet.
She remembers how he carried
wood for his father, learned
to return the beetle to its mate,
let the lizard go off to the desert.
Once a beggar stopped for drink.
Jesus lifted the cup. Sun sparkled
from the well water as the man
stood speechless, sand-crusted,
soiled kerchief at his neck.
II. The Way of the Cross
She hears the whispers, sees
the glances of the Sanhedrin
and grieves the pronouncement
of Pilate, her child stripped
and whipped. Along the path
to Golgotha, she watches him fall,
his struggle with the beam
over lacerated shoulders.
Weakened, barely clothed
in purple, he staggers
like some debauched king,
his head bound with thorns
and so blooded, he is blinded
while strangers shout for him
to hurry and hecklers spit.
III. Stabat Mater
She wants to wipe his face,
take him to her breast, the child
who brought her stones
from the garden, pebbles
the color of his eyes. The sky
is too low, and the earth rattles
as if to throw off shackles.
He endures the torture,
this crime of jealous men,
frightened for their positions,
power bestowed by Rome.
That Jesus would doubt—
what agony does! And the finish:
the sun hidden, the earth dark,
seismic, trembling beneath them.
She waits with Martha and Mary
for the soldier’s pronouncement,
for her son’s broken body.
She will wrap his feet and legs,
prepare him for the garden tomb
Joseph of Arimathea has given.
Nicodemus comes to help,
brings myrrh and aloes
in alabaster jars. She keens
silently, caresses Jesus’
weeping flesh, rocks him
as she did when a babe.