At a parish council meeting, some women clustering together
decide, whispering so as not to be overheard and hurt his
feelings, that the priest's shirt, decidedly dirty (for God's
sake a smear of fast food and the brown burn of cigarette on
one pocket) is but the latest sign of domestic disorder, and
that it is time for a good soul with nothing but time on her
hands to finally take over his housework. And, so, now, there
is the woman who does the priest's laundry although her name
is not listed in the church bulletin of course. She is, as
everyone says, the salt of the earth, or, at least, the knees
of Our Lady of Sorrows, this old woman who, for years, kneels
in a back pew although the more hurried parishioners claim never to have seen her, which does not
prevent them from asking her
to take the job, even before they recognize that no one else
will do it. And, the woman accepts the committee's appointment,
of course, although her motivations would surprise them, having
little to do with devotion to the priest and even less to
parochial duty. She also does not look, although her visitors
offer this as payment, for spiritual rewards in humble service.
Instead, in the priest's mildewed basket spilling rumpled sheets
and dirty tablecloths, she sees images on a silver screen, the
possibilities of blank canvases. The laundry clutches at her
wrists with steamy surfaces, harder to shake than the toddlers
in the nursery who weekly tug at her balance as if demanding
a last look, some rough stroke of recognition before the familiar
strangers take them home. Without softness, she gathers them:
the soggy towels and soggier infants. No call for humility,
nor pride in her work; she simply knows what she sees and that
her vision is a poem whispered in an old lover's foreign words
which only she can translate and then swallow like a coded
message in a child's mysterious game. Massaging her arthritic
hands to a new morning's work, she steps to the line and takes
the pin from her mouth closed against spills, closed against
loss. Weak eyes water against the strong winter sunlight.
She wipes the tears and lifts her arms into the whiteness, the
I have walked now for days on end
with my eyes closed, thoughts
centered at the point of my
nose as I imagine a cat's
to be, drawn wink by sleepy
wink forward from the brain
until the inner resources
are pruned purple into a pure
moment of insignificance. I
walk this way because I see
better with my eyes shut, or
almost shut like the outline
of mascara on a Chinese doll.
I see before me a country lane
of Michaelmas daisies and
tawny goldenrod rounding
the lake to a beach of black
smooth rocks --- I am in
Finland, or some inner landscape---
not the underground of last night.
Here is clean air and the sound
of water falling over mineral
shelves to clean streams below
the streets of my thoughts. Is
this a purple carpet I step on?
I see one bumblebee heading
over the fence and into the doorway
of this shrunken Old Field's Baptist Church.
The trees are tagged with signs
of modern advancement: KEEP OUT,
BAD DOGS, as out of the big house
comes a white-haired man saying
he's Harry Smith, maker of this
miniature, and everything is copacetic
if I want to take a look.
Just be sure to keep him
in my story.
The real church has vanished
from the hill but here's a six-foot-long
god-house that Harry Smith built
in his livingroom before turning it
out to winter.
The steeple strung with Christmas lights
soars in Wonderland proportions
over the roof's peeling coat of red
as I stoop for the peepshow,
four-inch pews are scattered like chance
into a sanctuary;
wasps with wafer-thin wings
fly before cellophaned windows,
the altar lit in a dusky, underwater blue.
No parishioners puzzle in a stain
of sunlight. This church
is cleansed of people,
of all but the ceremony of cutting,
the ritual of nailing
disappearance into place.
That night the big church came down,
it must have spread its cloistered parts
like stars in a dark country night
till Harry took charge and planted
in his yard what anyone will remember
of Old Field's Baptist Church.
I'm on my knees
and he's still saying remember me,
holding out his photo
of the first, the big and the real
one. So, in the language of installation,
I commit Harry and his church,
hatched in a house, to shine
as blue as bedside stars over Old Field's.
A far clock chimes in mid-summer.
I hang upsidedown from the roof of your skull
sleeping-my wings crossed over me
like Pharaoh's arms, locking in a wisdom
millennial sands have leached and buried.
We are here by the thousands.
Light tilted upwards stirs
us in a dark hoodoo: ripples of crepe,
eyes like red sequins,
fangs that glitter heliophobic.
One detaches, drops,
in wild loops describes the light,
shrieking a high staccato,
reading your shape off the wall.
Turning out the light, you feel
the air stir as he swoops
close, and crawl out, anxious
for the sun's sharp definitions,
the sky's bowl of consciousness.
Meanwhile, the effigy of a bishop
with his cope about his shoulders
in rigid half-sleep, I wait
for the night, when like an afterthought
I follow where you toss in the sheets,
in the quick inaudible voice
of sonar, zero in on your dream.
Eyes twitching, you feel a peculiar
weightlessness. Your hands grow thin
and long, the moonlight showing through
as you hold them over the world
in a kind of benediction. Gliding,
you hear each small lament,
the mole's grief, the mouse's fear,
the trembling mouth of the grub.
You circle that chalky face
the white zero, the bullseye-
and, at last, caught in its ring
plunge, head rimmed with fire
all night until the stars
fall, too faint to be heard,
until with a short swoop and silent
cry you return to the cave
and fold upsidedown with the others
to share in a sleepy murmur
secrets you hide from the day
like dark cells clustered in a brain.