Talitha Koum: A Poem

Some years ago I spent an Advent season studying the stories of people who were raised from the dead in the New Testament. All the healing stories raise so many questions for me — I want to know more about the background of these special individuals, and what their experience might have been. I ended up writing poems based on my reflections, which have no particular theological and certainly no historical merit, but which pleased me to write and might interest you too.

I shared one of these poems earlier, What the Rich Young Man Said. Today, Easter Sunday, I’m sharing another poem that is based on the linked stories of a young girl who dies and a woman with a hemorrhage. Though sometimes considered separate healings, they are clearly connected; the woman has been bleeding for twelve years, and the girl is twelve years old. The Aramaic phrase “Talitha koum/cumi,” translated as “Young maiden, arise,” is given only in the Gospel of Mark (see Mark 5: 22-43). It is probably a Mystery phrase, related to the awakening to new life of a candidate for initiation.

I love this story and find it endlessly fascinating to meditate on. I think it shows a great sensitivity to the nature of feminine spirituality, of the mysteries of bearing and sacrifice that are bound up with the forces of life. I offer this poem as one perspective, knowing that there are others. How do you understand this miraculous healing?

Talitha, Koum

The Woman

I saw him from a distance,
Moving through crowds, on his way
To save that poor little girl –
No, twelve years old, a child no more.
Time to enter a woman’s life,
To pass through that gate of pain.

It was twelve years ago my own life ended.
Two moons without blood –
I walked in fear
My secret would be discovered,
My sin revealed to all.
I did what I could, renounced my lover,
Made sacrifice, and prayed for wisdom.
But no word came; my heart kept silence.

Then the bleeding began.
At first I was glad – the life in me
Had ended itself, no one would know,
And I’d not sin again.
There was pain, but it passed,
Bloody cloths, but I burned them,
And thought that was the end.

The next day, more blood. And the next –
And so on, and on, as everyone knows;
My hiding days were over.
They don’t know why, but they do sense something
Uncanny there, or cursed.
Of course, no man would ever have me;
No child could come from my shattered womb.

I could never be clean,
Never make the rites of purification,
And no one could touch me,
No, not even the hem of my garment.

So my dark life flowed out,
Abundant but useless,
Love consumed by death.

Then I saw where he walked,
Bright star mobbed by clouds,
And a ray of hope pierced my darkness.
He, too, poured out life
From an endless source,
But no death reigned in him.

If I could just touch his shining,
Come in range of that radiance,
My light might be rekindled,
My empty heart cease its weeping.

I’ll not halt his healing of the maiden,
Not show myself or speak,
Just come close in the crowd
And reach out my hand,
Nearer, nearer,

The Maiden

The day they brought me my woman’s gown,
Bound up my hair, and made the rites
To mark my childhood’s end,
My mother kissed me, spoke words of pride –
Only I saw her tears.

My blood had come, that secret stain
Which no man sees, and yet we women
Announce it to all with these outward signs:
Here’s a new one ripe to wed and bear.

That’s when I started to die a little,
As if some essence left my limbs
Along with the bloody flow.
I couldn’t speak of it, too ashamed
To say I might not have the strength
For shouldering a woman’s lot
Of suffering and care.

But day by day my life bled out,
And I walked in a dream, unaware how I went
Until I staggered and fell.

Laid out on the bed, as though in the tomb,
My spirit left my body.
I saw people like stars, most faint and dim,
A few souls blazing brighter.
Out in the market a great mob flickered,
And at its center –
A Sun.

All at once his flame
Became too bright
For even my inner eye.
I saw no more,
Swallowed up by the dark.

There was nothing then, no light, no sound,
Without feeling or fear, I rested.
Till in time beyond time the Sun spoke to me,
Calling me maiden, bidding me rise.

How could I return
To that life I’d failed?
Wouldn’t it happen again?
The bleeding, the losing,
The fainting, the dying?
Better to just float away.

Then his hand in mine,
And I felt flowing through it
A woman’s courage, that no man can know:
Courage to bear impossible life,
To strive against hope, and face down death
For the sake of a future unborn.

Love asked me to live,
And at last I could answer


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6 thoughts on “Talitha Koum: A Poem

  1. You are such a master wordsmith, Lory! You have a gift both with prose and with poetry. It’s one of the first things I noticed about you, along with your sweet and honest spirit. I love your retelling of the woman with the blood issue.

    1. Thanks Lisa. I’m so grateful to be part of a community of word-lovers (and Word-lovers) here. It nourishes my soul.

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