Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Past a Sanctuary Staffed by Poltergeists

The tireless editors of ecclesial design
have rearranged the vestments in the closets
of your mind, and now it’s lousy paisley
couches cruising through the anterooms,
the transepts’ saintly portraits upside-down.
Most icons in the attics have already been
forgotten into boxes marked with gibberish,
the calligraphy of ghosts. There’s that squeal
like magic markers on cardboard sometimes—
faint, but your whole skull shivers: one more
bit of memoir, just the nimbus of a headache,
locked away or tumbled down your spine.

Surprising where you find a sacred fragment,
when you find one in the present.
Among the clammy delicates you transfer
to a dryer, maybe: junior high with the cool feel
of a phone cord coiled around your little finger.
Or once, in your husband’s kiss, leaf-scent
fragrant in a sweatshirt, as he held you in the wake
of several whiskeys. Incense on his tongue,
and then his mouth like marshmallows
and chocolates by a bonfire. Each kiss after
there was less of it. Only lips by morning.

You might think the poltergeists are cruel.
They hide the antiques one by one and dim
the white you were inside your first bikini.
They steal your mother’s fondness for azaleas
and install your in-law’s couches. Worse,
they’ve saved the vision of the childhood
friend who lost a thumb and finger to the ax
she found behind your father’s tool shed.
Girlish digits separated by the blade, her pink
face draining, and the minutes after—
screams turned inside-out, the sock you used
to try to staunch the bleeding: these in all
their gore for months beside your pillow
like what a cat drops crippled on a threshold.

But it’s not spitefulness why they cache
and disarticulate, why they stuff your fragile
keepsakes in the kneelers overnight.
And not an arbitrary shuffling of your life
they practice like malicious solitaire.
No, they’re priests who lack a scripture,
and this is how they’ve learned to worship
in the tall brick church that shadows you.
For a while one set of rituals was working.
Now they need others. Hence the ax
and couches. At times a stained glass
window is commissioned for a feast day
and for a while some cherished fire
will crackle in your head the way it used to.
Foolish though, to think the god they praise
is your biography. You’re architecture
and artifact and they will whittle you down
to relics. Your purpose is to call the tips
of fingers holy, to let the tinctured sun fall
on whatever they place at the altar, to pray,
when you pray, from any pew they choose.  end  

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