Lullaby

Virginia Starrett




Departing the path of a narrow road

            she enters the wood while a croaking toad

utters disdain for the sing-song brook,

            the buds of green, the bragging rook.

 

On the Ides of March, awash in mists

            that wet the tree trunks’ gnarled twists

and blot the forest deep from sight,

            she enters the wood at dawn’s first light.

 

The crowning sun casts pink the sky,

            pink like the cheek beneath each eye

of the maid in the wood on an autumn eve

            not long ago, when she could believe

 

in buttermilk bread, and lambs and wool,

            and the man in the moon, and nursery school.

“I shear the sheep,” the shepherd said,

            but he sheared the maid in the wood instead.

 

And the pink cheeks paled when the retch poured out,

            when despite the sick, she grew quite stout.

And the pink cheeks paled, when one fateful day

            a potion of herbs made the maid bleed away.

 

Now her feet walk the trail to a humus bed

            beneath an oak’s wide leafy head,

where, shoulders bent, she stops to rest,

            clutching a bundle against her chest.

 

Like a baptism blessing, tears sprinkle her prize—

            this beat of her heart bound in grisly disguise:

a wrapping of linen, blood sopped and rolled,

            cuddling an infant, stillborn and cold.

 

Gently the maid lays the bundle in leaves,

            then cloistered in shadow, she kneels down and grieves

till her fingers find solace in digging the earth,

            preparing for death, as a penance for birth.

 

As a last rite of sorrow, the maid pats the mound,

            puts her cheek to the dirt, plants a kiss on the ground,

but rising to go in the afternoon’s shade,

            she imagines a cry in the gray dappled glade.

 

 And she can’t leave the babe to the black of the night,

            abandoned, alone, in a nightmare of fright.

No, she can’t leave the babe till a new dawn comes,

            so her limbs start to chill, and her forehead numbs.

 

And the dark wraps around as she curls in a heap,

            the pain in her womb not allowing her sleep,

And before her a newborn in gossamer gown

            embroidered with French knots, a cap on its crown,

 

Squinches its doll-eyes, and trembles with fear,

            flailing its hands, wanting loving arms near.

But the maid’s stiffened limbs can’t respond to the need

            though her hands claw the air, and her frozen lips plead:

 

“O Lord of all heaven, forgive me my sin,

            and guard my poor darling, don’t  let evil in.”

When a sudden wind swirls, blowing warm through the fells

            and the trees glow like flames, and the stars clang like bells.

 

And the faces of angels crowd everywhere bright,

            cascading a song through the sad heart of night,

And the maid sees her babe rising, furled in white wings,

            drowsing in sleep as the angel host sings.

 

Then bright hope fills the maid and lifts her along

            to the tops of the trees in the lullaby song.

And bright hope makes her sing as it floats her up soft

            to her own feathered bed, in a warm, starry loft.

 

But alone and afraid, in a dark, icy wood

            feeling lost and forlorn, sadly misunderstood,

You may still hear her voice floating high in the breeze,

            singing hope in a whisper that flutters the trees.

 

Hope to comfort your heart, Hope to answer your pleas,

Hope to soften your hardness, your unbending knees,

Hope that tells of forgiveness for each erring child,

Hope that celebrates love in the midst of the wild.