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Poetry Friday

This isn’t
Just a story. This isn’t just
A reliquary for bones that no one found.

Mystery hangs suspended in Jack Stewart’s poem “The Ruined Saint.” Like the “gemmed rosary” of blood that drips bead by bead “between his toes,” the poem trickles down the page slowly and occasionally submits to stillness, creating space for marvel at miracle and marvel, too, at hatred witnessed. A story is not merely a story when the generative power of words is acknowledged. When you realize that, “If in the beginning was the Word, you make / Your prayer beads out of syllables”—then you see what is spoken shapes reality.

But the word “just” means more than merely, and Stewart’s enjambment calls readers to linger over the repeated “This isn’t just.” Even as the startling imagery at the beginning of the poem pulls me briefly from my surroundings, I am moved by the end to recall a photo stuck, despite scrolling, to my monitor screen—an injustice, a young man in a MAGA hat staring down an elder at the Indigenous people’s march, his friends behind holding their signs “And whatever else / Their hate could find.” And I draw my fingers from my mouse to trace the final words of “The Ruined Saint”: knowing the miracle of language and the pain it often brings, I resolve that, like the martyr, “I can only speak to bless.”

—S. M. Pruis

“The Ruined Saint”

The slashed body
Hanging from a branch,
A harness of blood
Streaming over the shoulders….

From a gash on one leg
A gemmed rosary of a rivulet
Slides down his calf and over his foot
To drip between his toes.

The miracle is that it stops mid-air
And swings lightly in the breeze.
Then the sun takes it
And begins to sew his wounds closed,
The sutures of blood cleansing his body
Until he hangs a shining death for
The ignorant to believe.

This isn’t
Just a story. This isn’t just
A reliquary for bones that no one found.
If in the beginning was the Word, you make
Your prayer beads out of syllables,
Out of prayers themselves.

They shaved his head.
They had long knives
And rope, a sharpened walking staff,
A hoe,
And whatever else
Their hate could find.

The saint is dead,
And I can only speak in martyred words.
I can only speak to bless.

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