This week brings us a beautiful new work by Mary Jane Nealon. For the month of March, our works are curated by Shann Ray, and each explores theme of Light and Darkness from the perspective of Isaiah 61:3:
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
ADORATION OF THE FOOT
by Mary Jane Nealon
I took my hand, which was as waxy as a crayon and reached into the world
and it hit the bottom of someone’s foot.
I made a career of it.
The feet were (swollen, blue, veiny, excoriated),
and always at the bottom of the bed, when I entered in white.
A bride of the foot.
At the peak of the AIDS epidemic, I could not look Marco in the face,
venue for his suffering
but we understood that in his right foot there was a door to a netherworld
and tethered there, forever there,
I left my hand on an opening.
My hand wanted to both see beyond where we stood
and to hold his spirit here in this room,
maybe if I pressed gently at the bottom of the foot,
he would live, his soul might find no egress.
Yet, when the swelling was wide enough, the pain was wide enough
his spirit pushed
past my hand, into the room
and for a few moments, his skin, (which appeared as a wide curved door)
opened towards the ocean of grief in the room,
and he rose
into some odd oblivion of sound meeting no-sound.
And then someone else’s feet: a woman running into the Emergency Room,
downtown Jersey City,
a Vietnamese woman escaping her husband’s gun,
she ran three miles down Montgomery Street,
from the highest point to the lowest point
over glass and the curved street leading to the Turnpike,
past the Kosher grocer and the Seventh Precinct,
ran into the hospital, bloodied.
I held my arms out to her.
I held my arms out.
I scrubbed her feet in front of the detective who said,
it’s a waste of time, she’ll go back to him….
but she and I understood
her husband no longer had anything to do with it,
she had made a comrade of her feet
and in the shards we lifted with tweezers from her heels,
in the glossy black stitches that reattached her toes,
we praised the beginning of a beautiful mutiny.
In the fluorescent light of antisepsis,
her feet were quite simply, revolutionary.
From the Artist:
This piece is my attempt to highlight the body as the warrior for the spirit. In every situation of suffering that I have witnessed, the body asserts itself as a force for life. I am convinced that despair often comes with physical pain and that comforting the suffering body is what makes way for praise. I am especially drawn to the power of the human foot, which is the element of praise in my poem. The body in despair is often curled and tight and touching the foot with compassion and love is a way to honor the suffering person, to praise the body’s struggle to live and in doing so, one often sees the body uncurl, open out and release the suffering spirit.
Mary Jane Nealon, RN, MFA has worked as a nurse and writer for
36 years. She has two collections of poetry: Rogue Apostle and Immaculate
Fuel (Four Way Books). She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts
Work Center in Provincetown, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts,
and Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. Her memoir, Beautiful Unbroken: One
Nurse’s Life (Graywolf, 2011) won the Bakeless Nonfiction Prize.
Poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.