the Madonna of Woodford is red and green - and not yet blue
of heaven - and earth-coloured as the church is ochre in hue
that she stands in. a Christ child rests on her arm and a candle
burns deep in its tallow at her feet - while she perches there skewed
from the weight. no pale Mary this - her grace and power handled
to give her a true woman’s form - her nurture as a Jew.
Virgin of the Dry Tree and burning bush made to flourish
but in flame - I am thorn hard-purchased - thrown on and strewn.
Promise made to Ezekiel - Israel brought to nourish
nations through the Word you weaned - birch of mint in bloom budding rue
for a world that had no hold - even as the fire took hold -
the prophets have searched in vain for the speaker hidden from view.
all they saw was your blazing veil and not the nest in your fold.
Mother unconsumed - grow on sin’s secret where unpurged I grew.
13 September 2021
Exodus 3.2, Ezekiel 17.24, Luke 11.42 are the scriptural references. I refer to the painting from the 1440s ” The Virgin of the Dry Tree” by Petrus Christus, and to the Madonna and Child at St Mary’s Church, Woodford Halse.
I am grateful to a Meditation from St Catherine’s Monastery, Mt Sinai, on the Virgin as the Burning Bush, for inspiring this poem. The holy water blessing branch of the Catholic Church is known as ” the branch of grace”.