May Altar Constructed from Memory

God lay down in the one cool spot

of the hall

the bell had emptied like a church.

Down He lay,

one eye closed, one keeping watch,

for we had been given

leave to retire our wool uniforms

for the season.

In the desert of grade school,

in the heat,

we could dress like Protestants

for a month—

but covered. Upholstered.

For Mothers’ Day,

the priest poured fire and brimstone

on spaghetti straps.


Sister Innocentia turned an empty desk

into an altar

for a plaster Virgin who trod on a snake.

But she accepted,

without looking up, homegrown flowers,

however draggled.

The dry air of learning grew sinful with scent.

A pencil, sharpened,

filled the room with cedars felled in the fight

with square roots.

Abandoned in the cloakroom,

a banana blackened

like the dubious finger of a saint.

I was rusting—

I could smell it in my sweaty palm.

In the carnal world,

in pickle jars, cut flowers leaned

away from each other,

leaned blowsily into the martyr’s sin.

All silk and velvet,

tongue and beard, they lusted for nothing

more than this.

They were bent on dying.