Will the Real Mary Please Stand Up?

Literature

Will the Real Mary Please Stand Up?


Androgynous Mary

Self Portrait (in robe with masks attached), Claude Cahun, 1928
I’m seeing it now, my ghost, and telling it  
to behave as if it were me, which
leaves me to wonder what it will do.

I walk, it walks; I sit, it sits. The chair
is covered in faux fur, the pattern the skin
of a zebra. So far, it’s as I thought:
There are at least two sides to everything.

I also see the ghosts of those who said
I couldn’t be whoever I was. I twist those
into pretzels and put them in my mouth.

Mary of the Stairs

Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, Titian, ca. 1534–1538
There are no staircases per se, 
although there are elevations: high,
higher, and higher yet.
Below, Saint Thérèse is napping
shoeless under an altar.
I’m searching for the overhead
rapture—it holds such promise.
Its role is to transport us out of this
life and into inventive distractions
from the acetone odor of sanctity
rising from the blood flowing
from a stone—a leftover sign
of the times when people believed
miracles actually happened.
I tell myself, “You have to be a saint
to keep waking and sleeping
in this world.” Ironica. Uronica.
It wasn’t me on the grilled cheese
sandwich. It might be Mary
Pickford née Smith. Or the equally
long ago Clara Bow, the It Girl
who starred in It. We all look
alike standing on the steps,
our diminutive dresses, our faces
facing the world that says smile
for the camera. Once captured,
we’re handed back a facsimile
we can use to compare ourselves to
the Mary we’re told we should be.

Mary Jane

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” Official Music Video, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1993
Each thought a puff of air until,  
finally, there it was, the atmosphere
as dense as a fogged-in city.

Still, I saw the going-up stairs
on the face of the brick building
opposite. The sun above

the sky line. A bird making a beeline
across a balcony. What I didn’t see
standing next to me was my future.

After all that was left
was an ember at the end
of a roach clip, the blond-haired boy

from some Scandinavia
of the mind began to stroke my arm
as if I were a cat. I moved my arm

but he didn’t stop. Some people think
they can act on every odd idea
that comes into their heads.

I got up, closed the blinds, then,
sat back down again.
He went back to petting me like a cat.

I looked at my shoes.
I heard the future say, “Someday,
you’re going to have to learn to speak.”

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