The Other Mary

This is the story of Saint Mary of Egypt
not to be confused with the other more famous Mary
the Virgin Mother.
No, Saint Mary lived a much more difficult life.

At twelve she fled her family home in Cairo
when her father started taking bids for camels from nomads
eager to add to their harems.
She ran all the way to Alexandria into the open door of a local brothel
where wine flowed freely
and one night she became a woman
again and again.
She enjoyed her job so much she refused to accept pay for it.
She spun a flax wheel and begged on crowded streets for spare coins.

One day she saw a docked boat ready to set sail for Jerusalem;
the deck was teeming with tanned chests and strong arms.
Little Mary licked her lips and hopped aboard, and
the boat rocked across the sea to Palestine.

In Jerusalem the men quickly abandoned her
and raced to the church Jesus had built with his
bare hands and a small lump of clay
to house a replica of his blessed Mother.
Little Mary tried to enter to see what all the fuss was about
But inside the statue of the Virgin came to life.
She stamped her foot and the door slammed shut in Mary’s face.

Outside the church, Mary glimpsed the Holy Mother
floating above her draped in a silky blue cloak that slid
slightly off her graceful shoulders.
Her milky complexion and lush lips completed
such perfect beauty that little Mary could not be jealous.
She longed for the Holy Mother to gather
her under her robe for one long embrace.
She wanted to be inside this vessel of purity
that all the men worshipped in art and architecture.

Little Mary spent nights on the porch across from the holy building
wondering when she’d be allowed to enter.
Men visited her nightly which troubled the Holy Mother greatly
for in those vulgar moments she often heard
the Lord’s name, Her Son’s name, even Her own name
cried out in blasphemy and She wondered
what command this sweaty harlot had over these men
who claimed to worship the Virgin.
As a Holy Woman, she had never worked for anything,
not even childbirth.
When she wanted a son
the Baby Jesus simply appeared in her lap.

So the Virgin had an idea:
While Mary slept
She whispered slyly in her ear, “Go upon sunrise to cross the Jordan River.
Walk until the trees disappear and the sky turns the color of the ripest fruit
on the tangerine trees.
Wait there and I shall come to you,” she promised.

The next morning, Mary spent her last few coins on three loaves of bread
and that was all she brought with her on this sacred journey.
She asked directions of a blind man, who shoved her East toward the river.
The other Mary watched with a smile.
As her young rival crossed the gentle river,
the blessed Virgin nudged God from his slumber
and without an argument
He kicked up a sudden storm.
The water swirled and eddied around little Mary
tearing the clothes from her body
She clung to her loaves of bread and waded across the dangerous currents.

On the other side was a dark forest.
The hungry yellow eyes of lions stared from behind the leaves
but Mary kept on walking as she’d been ordered for ten days
until finally the dark canopy of leaves
o p e n e d  u p
and there was nothing but orange sky above her and dust under her bare feet.

Mary sat down
nibbled at the hardened bread
and waited



But there was no sign of the Holy Mother.
The days stretched to years — forty-seven to be exact
and Mary rationed her crumbs of bread
that tasted like little pebbles in her dry mouth.
She never cursed the holy Mother for leading
her into this barren desert. She just sat under the sun
until her skin turned to charcoal dust
adhered to her bones with hot sticky tears she wept
without bitterness
whenever she thought about laughing
over crowded tables brimming with meat and wine.
Most of all she longed for the salty taste of sweaty skin
and the feel of a strapping man
sliding over and into her
and she began to caress herself, gentle at first
but she felt her desire





at that very moment
the blessed Virgin let out an exasperated sigh
kicking up a ferocious sand storm.
Without a whimper
Mary snapped off her fingers like wishbones
one by one
and threw them into the dust bowl.
She collapsed in a heap on the ground.

When her breath grew shallow
God began to weaken and sent the strange monk Zosimus
deep into desert,
Zosimus broke off small pieces of Jesus’ sacred heart
that he had preserved in a wooly shroud and dropped them into
Mary’s eager mouth.
She smiled but her breath
grew more shallow still
so Zosimus kissed her blistered feet
and read her Last Rites.

As Mary took her final breath
God at last opened his arms for her
but Mary turned toward the Virgin
who took one look at Her rival’s
charbroiled skin and sparse clumps of white hair
and turned her back
in disgust.



~ by Dark Landscapes on March 25, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Other Mary”

  1. I’ve written a series of poems on the lives of different saints. This is one of those. It’s all based on the life of St. Mary of Egypt, also known as Maria Aegyptica.

  2. You have a way of looking very deeply into people’s lives.
    My favourite part is: “and one night she became a woman/again and again”

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