Marie Howe, in her poem “Once or Twice or Three Times I Saw Something,” envisions Mary as a kind of mystic, a young girl who is already adept at seeing through the veil of this reality and finding the beauty and mystery of God. She’s able to hear the angel and believe his message because she’s already half-intuited that message from the world she walks through. Here’s the poem:
Once or twice or three times, I saw something
rise from the dust in the yard, like the soul
of the dust, or from the field, the soul-body
of the field— rise and hover like a veil in the sun
billowing— as if I could see the wind itself.
I thought I did it— squinting— but I didn’t.
As if the edges of things blurred— so what was in
bled out, breathed up and mingled: bush and cow
and dust and well: breathed a field I walked through
waist high, as through high grass or water, my fingers
swirling through it— or it through me. I saw it.
It was thing and spirit both: the real
world: evident, invisible.*
So Mary is a mystic, who has prepared, through a practice of deep attentiveness, for union with God. But it occurs to me, after meditating upon the annunciation story in Luke, that we’re never given the scene of that union, the story of the conception itself. We’re told about the annunciation, and then the next thing we know, Mary’s already pregnant and on her way to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
There’s a lacuna in the text, a blank space that exists between the annunciation and the visitation, and this painting is a meditation on that lacuna. As I contemplated Mary, I realized that she’s a stand-in for all of us who wait for union with God. What patience she must have had in her waiting. What faith that the promised union would happen. There is a solace in this, a sense that those of us who wait have her companionship in our waiting. As I painted, I wrote my own poem for her:
She Waits with Those Who Wait for God
Leaves are lace on the dawn’s body.
Houses scatter silhouettes at the sky.
All the world waits – for days she’s been waiting.
An angel came in invading
light. An angel called her favored –
she, mystic Mary, who can see –
who languishes in vision, longing
to have no borders, no frontiers to cross –
to be the shadow of a man coming towards her,
and then the man himself,
and then the sunlight in his hair
(she thinks that she might die within his cells –
she thinks that she might flow and stain like sweat) –
to be the green grass and the scalp
of earth beneath it – to ascend
in a yellow pulse along the day –
to balance in the memory
of God – to fall and rise again, like breath.
(Now strong sunlight through the window.
Now a solid brightness to her prayers.
She is an egg of being, a foretaste of delight.
Again, again she absorbs the light
that sunlight shapes against her skin.
Again, again her eyes are laughing sight,
a scatter of air beneath dove’s wings.)
*Howe, Marie (2009-09-08). The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems (Kindle Locations 259-265). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.