Last Sunday’s Gospel from John 9 of the raising of Lazarus, and Stuart’s wonderful sermon out and about with the text, led me back to several literary reimaginings of Lazarus. I stumbled just yesterday at Charis Bookstore in Little Five Points in Atlanta on a poetry collection by Arkansas poet Mendy Knott with the irresistible title, A Little Lazarus. Here is the title poem:
A Little Lazarus
I found the tiny body lying limp on the doorstep
so small I mistook it for a bit of moving-in debris
and would have swept I away
until I caught the green glimmer of hummingbird wings.
“Look,” I said, not touching it, afraid to make things worse,
not wanting even its small death on my hands.
Here is where the nursing spirit shows us common mortals up
believing as they do it’s better to die loved and being loved
than all alone.
You never hesitated to lift the crumpled feathers
into the cup of your palm, whispering consolations
cooing your compassion as if you could talk it back to life.
You took it to the feeder, which you had so lovingly cleaned and filled
as I grew frustrated that you took so long at this one task
while I cleaned and mopped the entire cabin.
Like Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus
on the day Jesus dropped in for a visit,
and Mary sat herself down on a stool by the Teacher
who kicked back in a recliner to share stories, swap tales,
and whisper their affections while Martha swept the floor,
fixed dinner, set the table because she knew the Lord
would appreciate it, and besides, that’s what she knew to do.
And she felt left out as their laughter drifted across her sweat soaked brow,
embittering some once sweet place in her well-meaning soul
and she hollered at Mary that she “Sure could use a little help around here!”
But Mr. Intuitive, Suitor of Souls, called out to her
where she stood angrily eavesdropping there in the kitchen
“Cut it out, Martha. Mary’s busy doing what Mary does best.
Now come on in here and love my neck.”
And that’s how it was with the hummingbird.
Like some biblical Martha Stewart I worked, worked, worked
while you performed a miracle.
Hard labor without love is just more work.
It’s love that makes a miracle.
And the hummer perched upright now on your thumb
not looking the least bit frightened, only stunned.
I watched as you touched your finger to that bright and shining feeder,
drew back one glistening drop of sugar water and held it out to him.
He dipped his needlebeak and sipped it from your fingertip,
then flew. Just lifted up and flew
as if he’d never been a broken body lying on a porch step,
as if the sweetened water from a bright and shining feeder was a baptism
and you a layer-on of hands, healing
with your quiet words of comfort
and a clean birdfeeder.
I was relieved to see him go; glad that he survived
and happy, too, to turn him back to Mother Nature –
Into Her hands I commit his soul.
But your hummingbird heart beat after him
hoping , praying for the outcome
and I could see how your little Lazarus had chipped away
a bright green bit of God’s glass from your rainbow-colored soul.
— by Mendy Knott from A Little Lazarus, 2010