Mary Magdalene

M. Cynthia Cheung | Poetry

after the portrait of Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow

You don’t need to be up close

at the exhibit to see the Magdalene’s clothes

are gorgeous—the rich blue mantle

on her shoulder, and the white linen, pleated,

almost invisible at her wrist. Her eyes,

too, were rendered in this same

fractured light.


If you know anything about Mary,

you know she stayed

until the end—which turned out

not to be the end? It’s a bit like

determining whether a woman is

or isn’t a virgin. It depends who

you ask.


Ask the Gospel

according to Thomas: Jesus once said that Mary—

like every woman who makes herself

a man—could enter heaven.


And why shouldn’t a woman

be worthy? As if her body housed

danger, and not a universe complete

with its own physics. Who knows

whether Mary was sad enough to pretend

God never made a mistake.


In the museum, her mad-tinted lips

appear about to part, perhaps as they did the day

she was emptied. See how she holds out

the urn, her finger tipping the lid

askew: Would you like to see my sin—

as though anyone who looks

can choose.