Alessandro’s Ascent

Heather K. Thompson

Being a Miracle of St. Maria Goretti

She came
Into the brazen ferment of the times,
Like a clear sky over a glistening sea,
As enlivening as a fresh, earth-bedecked wind
That twists through the spaces between leaves and then collides
With the relentless bumblebee.

She dreamt
The dreams a little girl is apt to dream:
Of laughing babies bouncing on her knee,
Of long, brown, rippling hair untrained by braids,
And legs like two strong stalks with lively stride
To tramp across the field or jump the brook.

She danced
From task to task with graceful ease,
Happily oblivious; content to be Maria,
To stay encased between these four chipped walls,
To hear the front door creak with push and pull,
To rub at stubborn spots upon the floor.

She prayed
This pious girl, this dutiful, beautiful child,
With ready smile and peachy-colored cheeks
Whose eyes, like two big drops of morning dew,
Would stare, transfixed, upon the crucifix
While slender fingers crisscrossed in her lap.

Who can understand the mystery of that day,
A day that dawned unpromising of drama?
A veiled sun … pulsating … in a hazy sky,
The stagnant air suspended in a mist
Across the parched field and the men who strove
With the stubborn soil as Adam had done before.

She sat upon the step, there shelling peas—
A meditative chore—and at the door,
Lingering, one eye on the shoe he proposed to shine,
Alessandro feasted on the blossoming figure of the girl,
Reducing her to thighs, breasts, slender limbs—and nothing more.

In one decisive, passionate leap of arms and legs,
The intersection of the two defied all but severance.
And then in circular terror he pursued
As will the frenzied horseman on the hunt,
Whose prey will dodge and scramble for the hedge.

Seeing the great impossibility of their case,
Hearing her cry: “I will not! It’s a sin!”
His lonely, long and love-starved years of life
Reared and he choked and spat out venom serpentine
As once was spewed in the distant garden of the world.

They found her bruised and beaten, stabbed straight through,
Punctured like lace curtains hung to let in light;
And as she bled into the sodden floor
You might have thought of Abel’s blood that spilled
And grew a voice to call upon the Lord.

The day gave up the sun, the moon appeared
And found Maria pale-cheeked upon a bed;
Her mother ground her heart out as she heard
Her daughter whisper crucifixion words
Of unfathomable forgiveness for the boy.

He wept
Alessandro, in a lightless cubbyhole of bars,
Where things with eight legs scuttled across the floor
There, where he rolled upon the floor, with filth,
As if to do so, he wished he might become
One with the dust and grime.

He wept
Not for grief of what he’d done—- at first—-
But for that twisting, gnawing, dulling thing called fear;
And for that twisting, gnawing, dulling feeling of despair,
That moves about the recesses of a sinner’s heart:
An inner embrace, though barren: a soul-scorching fire.

And every night, he closed his eyes in fitful sleep
And then she’d come to him in countless dreams
Skipping, smiling, dancing and calling out his name
And just before he’d waken with a start
She’d slide her tiny hand into his own.

One night she came with lilies in her hand
Fourteen lilies to cover fourteen wounds
She gave them over to him one by one
And each became a purifying flame
Designed to draw repentance from his heart.

Five years, ten years passed, twenty and more
Before the guard drew back the prison door
And Alessandro stumbled out a man
With wasted frame and stripe-marked hands to show
The grip of life upon the prison bars.

And like a net that sailors tug upon
To draw the fish in for an evening catch,
So Alessandro felt himself being drawn
Back to the place that once had been his home.
And there upon the step a woman sat
Shelling peas—a meditative chore.

He came upon her unexpectedly
And splaying in the dust before her feet
He begged her sweet forgiveness for his crime
And found himself entrapped between her arms
And heard her say: “If she could, then must I.”

Who can understand the mystery of that day,
A day which dawned unpromising of drama?
A veiled sun.. .pulsating… in a hazy sky,
The stagnant air suspended in a mist
Across the parched pilgrims in an age-old square,
And the Father who stood there as Peter had done before.

Her mother knelt there, doubled, upon the floor,
Weeping into cloth embroidered by a child,
Joy sparkling like crystals exposed to a shaft of light,
Like that last flippant tirade of the sun before it dips,
Like a bird shows joy when it tumbles upwards on a trill,
To play upon the tallest oaken tree.

And nearby, standing tall with hat in hand,
A white-haired man approached the central dias
And saw the Pope and heard the words pronounced
Of sanctification he knew about first-hand.
Then, at “Oremus,” he too knelt down, and prayed:

“Dear Saint Maria Goretti, child-martyr
What miracles are still achieved through thee!
What wondrous things God condescends to do,
When uttered through the virgin lips of you.
How often we have need still of your care,
Trapped behind these self-made prison bars.
Sister, pray for us”—- so, too, we cry.