Frances Richey

The Madonna Poems
June 22, 2023 Richey Frances

The Madonna Poems



The Adoration of the Christ Child
c1515  Jan Joset of Kalkor


She bends to lift him
from the basket.
He reaches out—
Both seem unaware
that dark circle around them
is their family.



Christ Crowned With Thorns
And The Mourning Mary

c1530-1540  Adrian Isenbrant


He would be mortified,
these two on the balcony—
us at Christmas—
the grown son, miserable,
his head wrapped in a vine;
the doleful mother, a book
in her hand, dressed like a nun.



The Forever Madonna
early 1520’s Bachiacca


Leave it to the US Postal Service to make a Forever Madonna and Child stamp and crop  out the cornflowers, the roses, and the sweetbriar; flowers symbolic of heaven, the Passion and the five wounds of Christ. Still, they had to include  the baby’s hand clutching a bouquet of Jasmine; divine love. Close enough for government work.



Sistine Madonna and Child


The sweep of her veil,
like a swath of desert sand,
billows from crown to
the crook of her elbow—
She holds her naked boy
close, his ginger hair
mussed. He looks drained
as if he knows he’s been
taken for that other boy
the king’s men are looking for—



The Madonna of the Pilgrims
1604  Caravaggio


She looks like my grandmother in the ’30’s, holding the boy she’d lose a few years later to meningitis, as she opened her back door to boxcar tramps and beggars shrouded in stink from the road, and though she barely had enough, she gave them bread and soup before she sent them on their way. She was a beauty too, like the Mary in this painting, a painting criticized by the higher echelons because this Madonna wasn’t glammed-up enough to be the Queen of Heaven, Mother to the Savior she carries on her hip. They were everywhere back then, their hair tied back, Wives to Poverty, Sisters to the Dust Bowl, their aprons caked with chicken blood, dusted in flour, many of their children returned to the earth in tiny coffins. The veil is very thin.



Where Is The Madonna Of The Coal Fields,


The Madonna of Powdered Wings
that smell like rain?


Where is The Madonna of the Great Flood
that washed away our town in ’77?
Footprints that can never be remade.


Where is the Madonna of Carbide
and Dupont, The Madonna of the Air
infused with Bug Spray
that smells to all the world like rotten eggs?


Who will paint the Madonna
of The South Side Bridge
that separates the poor from those with means,
the white schools from the black schools,
our meager town from those who own it?


There’s a hiss in the dark,
the moon through smoke,
The Madonna of the Fire that burned down Piggly Wiggly
on Christmas Eve.


I couldn’t sleep. I knew it wasn’t Santa,
I hoped it wasn’t Satan,
that glow outside my window, like a phantom
racing through the trees.

Frances Richey is the author of three poetry collections: The Warrior (Viking Penguin 2008), The Burning Point (White Pine Press 2004), and the chapbook, Voices of the Guard, a collaboration with the Oregon National Guard and Clackamas Community College, published by the college in 2010. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Gulf Coast, Salamander, Blackbird, and The Cortland Review, among others. She was a winner of Nicholas Kristof’s Iraq War Poetry Contest, and her poem appeared in his column, entitled “The Poets of War,” in June, 2007. She was the Barbara and Andrew Senchak Fellow at MacDowell for 2015-2016, a Finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2019, and a Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize. Her poems have been featured on NPR, PBS NewsHour and Verse Daily. She teaches an on-going poetry writing class at Himan Brown Senior Program at the 92NY in NYC where she is Poet-in-Residence.