St. Augustine by the River

At Ostia they sat on a weathered window seat
Above the Tiber,
He and Monica, his careful mother.
Always she had enfolded her wild son
With blandishments and plans.
Now it was enough he was a Christian,
Weaned of stolen pears.
From the villa
With Venus imaged on a frothy tile-mosaic wave
Cracked with age,
They stared at the low sun’s pulsing line
Along the water.
Below, the waterman’s boy at anchor dozed
Against his boat keel–
Adolescents can always sleep, it seems.

What may a mother be–mater enim quid sit?
The sidelong sun lit her cheek and the garment
Swathing her shoulder, side, and thigh.
They talked of faith, hers lifelong,
His new-minted.
His voice, soft to leave the boy unroused,
Echoed, humming, from the walls.
Hers was softer yet.
He’d found what the prophets knew, he said,
“O taste and see that the Lord is good”–
The sweetness held him, as of pear nectar,
Waking nights and layers of stumbling days. [no stanza]

Yes, she knew it too, the wine and the milk without price,
And the laying down of burdens
For the light and easy yoke–her days and nights
Had answered often to that “Come to me.”

Silent a while,
They watched each other’s hands,
Draped at ease on lap and knees.
He’d been the song-burden of her burdens,
Weight in her womb at his life’s dark egress
Into being,
Weight on her mind through friendship loves
With rhetorician schoolmates,
Weight on her spirit, in Manichean days
Of heady cultic deeps,
Affair with peasant mistress, then
Unlawful child–Adeodatus–
She’d chosen the name, giving him to God.
The sun, horizon-rimmed, sent rays
To the corner mirror
And back-lit now her other shoulder.

The sweetness filled them both
And the shield between them dropped
That blocks off child from mother,
Stiff guard,
Walling off the firepit, deep well of one’s own spirit stuff,
Cooling the surging efflux
To make the mind’s bounded orders
Language, law, taboos, prescription,
Inscription, subscription, description,
All and some,
They sloughed away with the spirit-shield.

Transparent self to unsheathed pristine self they gazed.
The half-sun fire and the mother fire
And the sweetness tasted, and the milk,
And the melting off of sorrows
All and some
Were melded in the gaze they held–
Mother and child, two and one, one and none,
Ancient of days, so fair and yet so old.
New heaven and new earth suffused the room.
The boy below slept on.

The body’s love is just as
As the spirit’s love.
In only sixteen hundred years
This would be known.