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,
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.