Published April 1, 2001


That first acknowledgement was potent enough –

his chubby baby arms thrown cradle-wide,

a naked smile so wise her knees buckled.

There she was on the ground again,

wrestling like Jacob with an angel demanding release.

“Let me go,” God said, but Jacob held and so did she.

“Not yet.”

Of course, she was blessed already.

No good girl imagines such an excess of favour,

such a drubbing of miracles.

A mighty muscle, her heart,

that on the eighth day learned its own circumcision,

her own beforeskin torn away

with his small, stoic rite.

That fierce clutch following was hers.

Her schooling seemed ever blood-tied –

the shame of crimson hay, shepherd-tossed,

the ceremonial wound,

then the young pigeons, shekel-got,

white-feathered panic gentled with a curious kiss.

And such an old man blessed them,

The child’s arms twined around his neck like vines.

He sang of servants, swords and souls,

the truth of which she locked away bone-deep.


The lad was never any trouble.

A dreamer, perhaps. Obedient.

Free with his affection,

delighted by the commonplace.

Until that dark Passover in the city

when, halfway home, they missed him

and doubted,

searched the market-stalls, the lurking places

where the godless cast their nets and dig their pits.

Any precious boy would catch

wrath for lingering.

Priced above rubies – any boy –

and to be found so serene, solemn, sitting.

No bloodied coat,

no brothers to blame.

His soft reply would echo ever after,

three words lingering,

suspended in the canopy,

to clatter later in the dust like coins.

My Father’s house.

Oh, he knew who he was.

It has been said that she treasured these things.

A peculiar treasure, to choose a man,

a nation over gold and silver.


Once upon a later time,

a mild carpenter put down his tools

and went to the river to seek his fortune.

Did his mother watch from a window?

She did not dog his steps.

There were the others to keep.

She could not keep them all.

The reports of him were not easy.

Like any hometown prophet

he was too familiar,

his fame a king’s robe devouring

the narrow shoulders of a remembered child.

She might have wished his deeds

to have remained domestic –

water to wine and full nets,

hillside banquets.

She may have hoped all that healing would

content him.

The spit to sight, the bleeding stopped,

the making whole.

But then the dead were raised and heads

of state were raised and then

she suspected

some unspeakable public purpose.

The strangers at his birth said crowns,

not thorns.


Women who bear children wear

a second skin beside the first,

as sensible to feeling as an extra eye.

Mothers know a double exposure –

keep watch over their babes,

every tiny hurt accounted for and borne again,

every wince wept over.

They say he submitted lamb-like,

embraced his mortal objective,

sustained by that mighty will unthinkable.

Her suffering was perhaps private.

But when they wrenched his arms apart

and nailed them there and hoisted him,

she might have thrown hers wide below

to take upon herself what agony she could.

Still streaming love

like a broken beacon, he spoke.

“Woman, here is your son.”

And to the grief-numb boy beside her,

“Here is your mother.”

If not for that, she might have died.

From fingertip to bleeding fingertip,

The world was wrapped.

And then

the light went out.


This story does not end, although

she may not have known this when

she cradled his cold form once more

and let him go.

Mel Malton’s fiction and poetry have appeared in journals and newspapers including The Malahat Review, Canadian Living, The Toronto Star and The Pottersfield Portfolio. She is the author of the Polly Deacon mystery novels (Napoleon/Rendezvous Press), the third of which will be published this fall. Embrace is one of a collection of meditative poems in progress. Ms. Malton lives in Muskoka. Illustrations: David Shaw


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