Martha by Julia Park Tracey

Mistress of the house, they called me, so I was

wed to my home from birth.

No festivals for me, nor wedding nor feast,

just the labor of the kitchen, the dusty floors

while my brother played,

my sister prayed.

I broke nails and teeth on chores, chafed my knees,

bent my back to scrub sheets white,

to brush red earth from the dooryard.

Eleazar sickened and died, but

the Master brought him back. So Miryam

followed them both, worshipful,

mesmerized, and when I dared to object,

The Master rebuked me, sent me back

to the fireside, to make a ministry

of what I’d been doing since I could walk.

I wielded ladle and broom, mulled wine,

shaped loaves, held the keys to the store cupboard.

I knew how to steep rose petals and toast spices,

which herbs for healing and which for a purge.

When at last Eleazar and Miryam,

who would starve without me,

took me on the long journey to Gaul,

to cook their meat and bind their blisters,

they were stupefied when the Devil appeared as a serpent—

so I, plain Martha, slew that dragon with a sprinkle of

my hallowed waters

and we supped on it that night.


Julia Park Tracey(she/her) is a poet, author and journalist. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Soul-Lit, Not Very Quiet, Autumn House Review, Coffee People, and Daphne. Honors include Poet Laureate of Alameda, Calif., California, Frederick C. Fallon Award for poetry, and a San Francisco Foundation Award grant. She lives in the low Sierras, California. F/IG/T @juliaparktracey

Author's note

I am an adult convert to Catholicism and have read a lot of theology. I am currently an atheist-feminist-ecosexual. I am particularly interested in the way women interact with religion: Can they be spiritual without being overwhelmed by patriarchal practices—whether within a pagan system or an Abrahamic system, can women be allowed to experience their spiritual growth in their own way? In "Judith and Holofernes" I play with heroism and the double standard of sexuality for women, and for "Martha," I play the practical against the ethereal. Oppression by any name or tradition is still oppression. I wrote these as part of a collection of 40 poems about women "saints," and call it, "All You Holy Virgins and Martyrs," meant both sincerely and cynically. I also wrote this collection during April's National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge.