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The sexton lives in a big stone house.
After supper he unlocks his church
for a fee. Our tour group pays to climb

past organ and choirloft, into the belfry
where the daring grip a sheep-skinned
knot and pull the rope straight

down into a scene from the novitiate
when I was in love with the bellringing
sister, the drama of billowed sleeves; her

muscled forearms, revealed, hidden, hard
set for the number of knells and no more,
herself lifted, Chagall over the village.

We chanted the graveled way to the graveyard
where buried together in widening circles—
I’m suddenly quite out of habit in the moment

surrounded by pilgrims who say ringing
the changes will bring you home when
you’ve paid for the time of your life.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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