Maudlin; Or, The Magdalen’s Tears


If faith is a tree that sorrow grows
and women, repentant or not, are swamps,

a man who comes for solace here
will be up to his knees and slow

getting out. A name can turn on anyone.
But say that a woman washes the dust

from a stranger’s feet
and sits quite dry-eyed in front

of her mirror at night.
The candle flame moves with her breath, as does

the hand of the painter, who sees in the flame
his chance for virtuosity. She lets him leave

her shoulder bare.
Bedlam’s distilled from a Mary too,

St. Mary’s of Bethlehem, shelter
for all the afflicted and weak

of mind. The donors conceived of as magi
no doubt. The mad and the newborn

serve equally well for show.
A whore with a heart, the rich

with a conscience, the keepers of language
and hospitals badly embarrassed at times

by their charge. The mirror refuses
the candle, you see. And tears on another’s behalf

are not
the mirrors he’s pleased to regard.

Who loves his ironies buxom and grave
must hate the foolish water of her eyes.

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