Ave Maria on the Lake

Ave Maria on the Lake by Giovanni Segantini, 1886.

Ave Maria on the Lake

A raft full of sheep is a strange sort of temple;
yet this is where the morning bell finds them,
golden notes carrying across golden water
in the golden dawn. They bow their heads,
and pray the familiar words,
recalling how the angel of the Lord appeared
to the virgin and how she was afraid and how
she was told and how she conceived a child.

Her own joyful news had come not on angel wings
but as slow-growing suspicion, dark night waking.
One dawn she whispered to her husband when
she was sure she had felt that quick flutter
like a fish darting from the water to catch a dancing fly.

What was the virgin doing when the angel came
she wonders. Was she spinning wool, a long
fine thread twisting between her fingers,
or knitting Joseph a cloak for cold dawns—
like one her husband wears, which she made herself
when first she started accompanying
him on journeys with the sheep—
he wrapped it round her today as she shivered.

Surely the Virgin knew the art of twisting
work and prayer into one strand and knitting
them together in a single garment—
maybe even that same seamless garment
the soldiers diced for? Maybe after Joseph’s death
Jesus made it his own— it still had many year’s wearing
in the well-worked cloth? Or maybe what she wove
became swaddling bands when she heard the news
about the baby— maybe given
to Elizabeth for wrapping John when he came
leaping out proclaiming his praise with lusty lungs.

Pray for us now and at the hour of death.
Our Lady certainly knows about death.
What comfort she must have been to Joseph
when his time came. She holds her child tighter
and heeds her husband’s voice:

I am the handmaid— let it be done.
His voice calls her back from reverie to the prayers,
which have been rolling automatically from her lips,
while her mind drifted like the morning mists that curl over the water.
Calls her back to the boat and the sheep shifting. The water laps
agreement: let it be, let it be, let it be done, done, done.

Hail, full of grace— like the graceful queenly Virgin
in the church by the lake where the bells are ringing
in the tall steeple pointing— oh such a sweet figure who
holds the child, the fruit of her womb, on her breast,
showing him to the world, but also keeping him close,
her cheek against his cheek, his arms around her neck.
Just like this, here, with my sweet baby.

The Word became flesh, she bows her head, and
dwelt among us. And worked among us, too, as one of us
and the first people the angels told were shepherds
like us— He must have smelled like sheep, wrapped
snugly in the fleece those shepherds surely brought.
And then he called himself the Good Shepherd.

Pour forth, we beseech thee, thy grace like warm
morning sun, like the wind’s breath on the lake,
Pray for us, Mother, that we may know the same joy
of golden light the angel’s greeting brought
on that morning when the tomb was empty.

By his passion, yes, and resurrection,
That glory. Oh glory, look at the light
now, how the church, the water, the sky glow
like the domed vault of the church, all gold
where the prayers rise up, oh glory! Amen.

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