On Troy Hill above Pittsburgh
Outside the chapel of Saint Anthony,
in the descent of an April afternoon,
the crossed branches—last summer’s skeleton—
scrape for entry, for permission, at the stained windows.
The door is heavy, and I move inside,
stopping short with heavy breath to adapt
to silence, to the rich and worried velvet
of the nave. The wind so vocal
the shimmy of light from altar votives
seems to dance at its command.
I count three steps
between each Station of the Cross,
where above me the pained faces
of the painted traitors hoist the Jew
mutely into the air. On the south wall,
in a tiny reliquary, rests a fiber of Mary’s veil,
and underneath, the skull
of another saint (maybe Matthias), wreathed
by bone chips from 12 apostles. A tooth
from St Anthony himself, and 22 splinters shaved
from the wooden crucifix. Such gravity.
Such affection. Such adoration
metered out to pieces
of the whole. What wouldn’t I sacrifice
to certify my loss as this authentic?
Darkly, the way I chose again and again
to fall in love with the parts of this earth,
not without friends and dinners and light laughter,
and not without the red-hot charging ahead
into the smoky allure of desire, but nevertheless
always with the helpless sense
that all could be lost.
I envy their certainty—
that on the same day the righteous die,
we must insist that fragments are saved.
As if I could have taken a chisel
to the edge of my son’s iliac bone
and closed a fraction of him—a relic—
within the door of a small glass amulet.
As if culling parts, like the priest
who scurried these slivers across the Atlantic,
could signal this is eternity,
moreso than a pleading symmetry
of grandiose arches, and moreso
than the ascendancy of gold flutes
toward the sky. As if
I could wander into the museum shop
next door, open ten to three most Sundays,
and ask the lady to show me how
to claim his lock of hair
and leftover marrow
The Poet Starts a Rough Draft of Her Obituary
A marvelous orchestration it was, or colossal failure.
All those days, the waiting for the right words
or the right mirror, or at least
the right waiting room. All those days
in glittering conversation with the wrong gods.
How to know then how much was ending,
when for so long I came in hot
and unrehearsed and the walls of this house
gathered round like curious medical students.
When my nervous system could barely rouse
without hearing the voices
of the children sing, or the breathy gossip of curtains,
swinging in the window wells. How did my newborn
poems always suspect when I’d gone
and fallen in love (here she goes again),
and my sheepish fantasies that followed;
why hadn’t I shouted in their tender ears
to grow up, come to terms with what
was wrestled? Every weekend,
I sensed disappointment
when they had nothing to do and nowhere
to go, sitting on my bed in little black dresses,
clutching their evening bags.
It’s the same way I’d used the mulberry silks
of Vogue magazine as wallpaper,
and called it adolescence; the same way
I stayed plastered
to the front page of the New York Times,
and thought myself worldly. A marvelous
orchestration it was! How I could gloss things up
here or slow them down there, and how
the repetition of words could be
a salve, a weird expensive ointment, and how
the repetition of words could be-
come nothing but lines at the corners
of my eyes. How gentle now, this softening.
This lure and ruin, this desk and home
where I love deeply all the animals
that trail behind me, the ones that breathe
and jerk in their dreams at my feet.
Where the cracked clock ticks
in a tattered blanket to help the puppy sleep,
and where these days I never find time
to get a shot off, but still… don’t you ever feel
illuminated from within, like a Christmas village
in fake snow? Soon enough, I’ll hold
the clenched-up remains in my hand,
(unpolished, unpublished) and have to let go.
Whatever is lost in the large and ardent translation
of a life cannot be durable, yet I am buried
by the near-syncopal thought that I once
imagined a life should be so…
linear? I know, I might’ve built it differently,
the house and the radius of lines that led
to the house. But here I sit
in blue-ticked and stained overalls,
and how dare I forsake the mess
of my dogged architecture; feral, a child
who nestles her madness—her creations—
into well-behaved rows.