by Marianne Peel
“Let my arms be as your branches
yours the song that must be sung…”
from Crux Fidelis
Three days ago, I inhaled the incense of the third hour, stoked myself up like a fire hungry for kindling wood. And I approached with a crooked knee, genuflected, and touched the wood of the cross. I wait, lingering a moment to hear the thunder and the darkness, the purple shrouded afternoons of my childhood Good Fridays. There is only the light of day, any day, coming through the glass that opens onto the street. The person before me kissed the wood. I have never kissed anyone without first exploring the hand, the open palm, the spaces in between. Running my fingers over closed eyes and open lips, listening for a sigh or a sobbing putting hand to cheek, trying to ferret out what is beneath the surface, beneath these vulnerable parts we share, touching these private places with so few over a lifetime. I remember Michelangelo’s Pieta knowing that there is a worn place an indentation in the feet of his grieving mother. A place where lips have been, where pilgrims and penitents have placed a gentle kiss over hundreds of years. I hesitate to kiss the feet of Jesus. Rather offer comfort to the living, I think. Wipe the tears from Mary’s face. Exchange mother-knowing looks with our eyes realizing we both knew our children, intimately and profoundly before they ever emerged into the light. I want to clasp her hands not wanting to let go. I long to become a carved shadow in this tableau frozen in marble in the sanctuary of this stone. Granting solace to this mother draped in the spiritless shell of her son. These planks, the starkness of wood on wood. This is a place for wounds and a place for healing. Time disappears and I offer this carpenter, this man of Nazareth, a ladle of the last wine served at the wedding at Cana. Breathing, vibrant red wine born of the finest grapes. This wine, usually served first when guests are critical, analyzing. This fruit of the vine on their celebrating tongues judging the generosity of their host. Later, they are content to swill the runt of the harvest, once inebriation steals their senses. On rocky ground, at the foot of this place of the skull, I push away the torn sponge, the sharpened stick, the liquid gall. Instead, I scratch my way to the vortex of the cross, clawing splinters beneath my nails, to lift me to his face. And it is here that I offer this simple ladle filled with moist wine, to drink in his time, in measured sips. I hold his cheek in my hand, wiping his chin between drinks, letting his head rest in the cradle of my hand. I remember his hands creating tables, benches, carving wooden structures that bring people together to laugh, to share, to break bread. This cross—a perverse use of wood— these crucifying beams. Surely this carpenter would have rejected this wood. But like the master craftsman he is, he works with what he is given. This tree becomes the cornerstone, the table offering an eternal banquet. The finest of living wine and bread. Simply for coming to the table with an open and pure heart. And so now, in my kneeling, I kiss the wood knowing my lips are soundless, swollen shut with a sadness and a gratefulness that has no voice And the only song I can sing speaks softly and silently as I tenderly kiss the wood, his hands, his feet, his forever outstretched arms.
A middle/high school English teacher for 32 years, Marianne Peel now nurtures her own creativity. She spent three summers teaching in China; received Fulbright Awards to Nepal and Turkey. Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Review, Jelly Bucket, Comstock Review, among others. Her debut collection, No Distance Between Us, was published by Shadelandhouse Modern Press in 2021.