Though something is understood
by the electorate, speaking the language
of the dispossessed, passing its charge
like lightning that assaults the pasture tree
and electrocutes the horses in its shade.
A pinpoint of stillness, restful alertness, cursory
recognition as the epoch shifts, though the canyon
and its rafters both collide with the river
and the red walls are unmoved. "Love bade me
welcome yet my soul drew back," wrote Herbert,
with typical twitchy syntax. What changes
is the will to change, the estrangement of prior faith,
every man a moon with a dark side that doesn't show
through, a black hidden fuse waiting to be lit,
revealed in fits and false starts.
What person would want to be President,
to stand with age shock in the gateway of Death,
becoming the business of the busybody
in a nation of finks, as ogled as the Mona Lisa,
with her inscrutable smile and Madonna iconography,
priceless and precisely mysterious? In America
we steer with frontier irreverence and mistake it
for affection, our austere offices, cornered and waiting,
caves that mortgage, with shrinking dividends,
the primitive imagination. In these broken places,
weighted by the freight of commerce,
the stalled mules nick one another from boredom.
Goaded with switches and curses,
they glide into the canyon with borrowed buoyancy,
shirking against the gravity of their loads.
The Brides of Christ
are not like you and me. Their old habits
are seldom broken. Their self-flagellation
lasts for days. They do not labor under
the curse of death and their bodies,
weighted with grace, do not decompose.
Bernadette bravely chose to address
the Virgin Mary at the cave in Lourdes.
The Sisters of Nevers supported her,
bedridden as she was with a tubercular kneecap.
When the holy water spurted out
like a golden ribbon, the countryside
was bathed in light; scales fell from eyes,
limbs straightened, the ice of chastity
froze the thorns on the trees;
bullets rotted in their barrels.
As for blood, there is always blood,
pouring from the palms or the feet
or for the Sister Adorers of Saint Hyacinth,
their entire robes were soaked
in red remembrance of the final trials
of God on Earth, the Holy Son,
in slow ascent, smelling of lilacs and
ripped to pieces by Roman soldiers,
completely unaware of their place
in history. How lonely to be married
only to Jesus and every day spent
in penance, re-enacting His last
horrible hours as He step by step
rose from His labyrinth toward
that body double in the final scene.
Or like Catherine of Sienna, disguised
as Yogi Berra, catching the fast balls
leveled from the untroubled guillotine
and hearing her name uttered by those
fading lips, lifted the lone heads
to her own and kissed them.
Only one soul in these old Heavens
that knows my name, she would say.
If, by praying, we are actually compelled
to listen to a voice not our own, or
merely by listening more intently we
are saved and pray in response, giving
each particle its proper name, then
lifting one's self in prayer might actually
keep the nuns from flying away.
Like Sister Agreda who thwarted
the Inquisition when Conquistadors
confirmed her blue satellite had been
transmitting the salvation story to tribes
in their native tongue half a world
away, her white bat-winged hood
pedaling her doughy visage through
the gray clouds of Northern Mexico.
There is no mediocre life that ends
in exile or is seduced by Baron Von Trapp
and his singing brood of magpies,
hopscotching from hilltop to hilltop, one step
ahead of the Nazis, who, looking for a
crook in every nanny, searched for Jews
in every nook and cranny, aided
by a Pope who looked the other way.
Still the brides of Christ stared down
Vichy and the war, bundled the orphans
and nursed the poor, and now stand
in medieval garb atop the last castle
walls of a machine built to supplant
man's base nature and lift him,
unyielding, into the pastures of forgiveness.
Across the landscape, the nuns come flying
in formation against a wintry sky while
the snow, in lacy breaths, spirals and misfires,
careens in layers brought low by wind,
in patterns that legitimize the proponent's
concerns, that the jigsaw puzzles of God
form a tapestry, a soot-free path into
His thoughts, that the travails and misery
of this world will be traded for the perfection
of another in ratios too abundant
for the human mind to surmise. And so
the convent stands, straddling the past
and future, a forbidding bridge by which
one might fly in surreptitious tones
of snowy surrender, a chaste flake
chastised by mortals, half-melted
already in Heaven's eye.