Mother of the County Woods

Inspired by winters in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland

From the lichen-covered Mary statue,
        robe chipped and
                paint flecked off,
                        face up in a creekside wood,
ghostesses of Southern Maryland gaze forth,
surveying their sphere
as the faint whoosh of spirit-world leaks out Her concrete pores,
        warning children on a dare
                or man-boys shooting paintball
                        or crabbers lolling in the sun:
the membrane holding this world from the next stretches so thin
beech trees--never losing leaves--whisper silver secrets from the dead.

These restless Spirits number doyennes of Piscataway—
        translated to "Women Where The River Bends,"
a Confederate deserter girl
        conscripted as her family's "summer-boy,"
two sister slaves dead in childbirth one week apart—
        Lo, the grieving mother, and
the suicided schoolgirl—slipped below sharp ice to a brackish grave—
        though no one knows that yet.

Blessed Lady, half-buried lawn ornament,
        chucked out a car window by teens drunken on a spree,
attends soft, snow-muffled afternoons with souls,
listening for a school bus,
        the cracks crack crack of black powder rifles creeping through a corps,
                or grandchildren's bundled steps crunching virgin snow.

By Mary's intersession, the ghostesses inhale
        scent of a waxy-breath doe—                 lips exploring hints of red button mushrooms by Her side,
feel tickling mouse-toes trailing mama below Mary’s mantle,
hear ping pip ping of holly berries loosed in a gust of weary wind,
        fall broken by Her outstretched arms.

One morning with Her, they wake
        struggling against tape-strings tied 'round trunks of firs too wide to hug
                and the drawl of surveyors navigating that steep incline—
                        piercing pointy instruments pitched in loam.
A foreman clutches binders and
        dreams of money shilled from rich outsiders
                convinced a cantilevered creek house was "a marvelous idea."
        A vestige of rusty goat-fencing gobbled by cedar
                slices one man's finger,
                        his blood drops mixing with remnants of their own
                                in snow-slush sanctity.

Tomorrow, that man is set to fly Her, crumbling statue,
        again unceremoniously,
                baptized into backwater.
She will sink,
        smothered in pluff mud—
a sacrifice exchanged,
        so workers may retrieve
                the wasted body of another girl.

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