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It is Mother’s Day, and all day
I’ve been thinking of the woman
who shut the doors to Piero’s
Madonna del Parto just as we arrived.

Her face was stonelike at first,
then her mouth began to quiver.
Then tears. It pained her to deny us.
But it was time to go home for lunch.

Could we come back in two hours?
Nearly forty years now?—our first son
just born. What is it that brings
that day so far back all the way forward?

We sat outside the chapel,
eating the sandwiches we’d brought,
and noted how it all fit together: river,
chapel, hills, sky. At last, our wait ended—

Walking up the hill, she appeared
against the milky blue backdrop of sky
and white clouds. And when she
opened the chapel doors and gestured,

bidding us to come forward,
she became a stand-in, hiding for
a moment the Madonna within
and behind her, the matching doors

her own attendant angels. And then
she stepped aside. Our eyes adjusting,
we saw a woman who could have
come from that very village, carrying

the weight of her child, one hand
on her belly where her dress was unbuttoned,
the other on her hip, Piero’s angels
pulling back the tent curtain so we could see

Mary’s yes. Yes to this physicality.
Yes to mortal love and anguish.
So calmly her whole body said yes to all of it.
So long ago now. For hours we took in

what della Francesca made visible,
without thinking of what remained invisible—
the life of the woman at the door,
our two sons who would follow

the first over the next years,
the later death of our middle son—
all of it now seeming as if it must have been
inside that brocade tent

we peered into that day in Monterchi,
seeing but not yet realizing
how often we’d be called upon
to give our own unthinkable yes.



Robert Cording taught English and creative writing at College of the Holy Cross for thirty-eight years and then worked for five years as a poetry mentor in the Seattle Pacific University MFA program. He has published ten collections of poems, the latest of which is In the Unwalled City (Slant).




Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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