Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child, oil painting by the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500; in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.
And the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:38, KJV

A young woman with a baby cuddled to her breast but not nursing, being carried in a kind of papoose pouch, climbing all the way up the narrow concrete steps spaced too close for my comfort having caught my toe and stumbled more than once, so I am afraid for her—she could fall. How would she protect the baby? Her dress is long, flowing over the tops of her shoes, village well water stirred, sifted through the fingers of a girl, pensive about what she has learned about herself and believes.

Kelly Sikkema

I think at first she is coming to speak to me and almost reach out to take her hand, offer her a seat here on the top row of the football stadium bleachers where Katrina and I are sitting with our friends, their son the quarterback of the home team. The young mother is standing close enough I could touch the hem of her dress, too long for this September Friday night, the material too heavy for a casual outing, cloth the color of what I imagine Mediterranean sand. Why do the Renaissance artists paint her in blue?

No one else seems to notice how she surveys the stands, the crowd loud and joyful. If she lowered her gaze, she would see me sitting here at her feet. Not finding whom she is looking for, the angel perhaps, she returns down the steps, sure of her footing. I lose her in the crowd.

At the start of the second half, she climbs back up to the top step, hugging the baby even closer than the pouch, and bounces slightly up toes, down toes, in time with the high school band throbbing the hearts of the football players, and I understand the drums, the brass, the downbeats are for her, her long, braided ponytail swinging pendulum, tock, tock, the baby snuggling to his mother, and I know she is alone, looking for the baby’s father.

Rodrigo Pereira

What if I rise and take her and her baby in my arms, she and the baby pressed against my chest as I hum the school’s fight song and lift and fall with my toes the way I bounced Katrina’s and my babies when we were college students and couldn’t imagine ever being retired from rising in the nights to lullaby one twin and then his brother, Katrina and I taking turns, two hours of sleep at a time, keeping the beat iambic, lulling us all toward tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, such an impossible distance to come.