Triptych on Mary Magdalene

catholic poetry room
This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Johanna Caton, O.S.B.

Triptych on Mary Magdalene


crouched in a sheep field hid
beneath my wrecked mind bit
my tongue convulsing
sobbed smelled
of animals and dung
tried to find comfort in dumb
sheep but groaned like a beast

what sudden wind
blew in with that bearded shepherd
eyes burning, helped me rise
stand up – how did hope hang
as a mother over her newborn
his voice powered

over the blood-taste in
my teeth that rancid smell that was them.
He demanded
How many are you?
Seven, the demons hissed in my voice –
but I felt them sicken, quake even:
Seven – they sneered it but knew it
was sacred – endless.

He cut them, commanding:
Go! one word
and they fled
screaming like pigs on fire


Long silence. I looked
at my hands: steady. My fingers:
breathing. No more fists,

my nails: pink and white,
the filth underneath was gone –
it cleared when they ran,

my palms: dry. A scent
of field-grass filled sun-frilled air.
No fits. The shepherd –

that new rabbi – he
smiled like rainfall, spoke, “Give me
your name.” “Mary – I’m

called Mary,” I said,
“of Magdala.” I alone,
I alone said it.

He repeated it:
“Mary. Of Magdala.” Each
syllable cherished.


He led me slowly to his mother – she
was waiting at the field’s gate and came
to take my hand, and seemed to know what he
already meant to me. She asked my name
and wrapped me with her arm as if to claim
my friendship as a prize much coveted,
and then she spoke so softly as she said –

she said that she could see my heart. My heart,
she said, was so like hers, inside her son’s –
inside his heart, yes, like the linen part
the weaver binds inside the purse. When done,
she said, the lining and the purse are one.
Then stillness came to me in that pure hour.
My heart, with hers in his, born by his power.

Johanna Caton, O.S.B., is a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey in Kent, England. Born in Virginia, she lived in the United States until adulthood, when her monastic vocation took her to England. She writes poetry as a means of understanding the work of God in her life, whose purposes and presence can be elusive until viewed through the more accommodating lens of art and poetry. Her poetry has appeared, or will appear in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Time of Singing Christian Poetry Journal, The Christian Century, Amethyst Review and other venues. She is a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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