There’s such a thing as end-time pilgrims, disciples
of the hoard—water, a tightwad inventory
of canned food to outlast the famine foretold
by Hiram’s dream. Life will go on, skimpily
and in secret, no seasons and no art,
no poet to lament the end of days.
They’ll arm themselves to the hilt, tracking things
to hate or kill. That is their lot, survival
their only offering, preservation
of the cherished self. No looking back, except
to see the bullets take root, to glory
over blood, a blackish stain on the flank
of anything that moves. With the world stilled,
they mistake God’s silence for God’s anger.
I rest, ecstatic, inside God’s silence,
but more than that I revel in his voice,
delivered, perhaps, as blot-all darkness
bearded by time-lapse clouds. Call me angel
of the overlooked, my halo made of weeds
and the feathers of grocery-store birds.
Hoppers, I named them, for the way they hop
rainbow puddles with french-fries in their beaks,
fine with traffic but terrified of me,
scaling zero to transfixed in an instant.
Can a woman be a whirling dervish?
If so, I accept. I tilt my head sideways,
I spread my arms, embrace the butchered world,
and stumble through the music of the spheres.
I’d argue stumbling is a type of praise.
If you don’t look down you never miss birds
thrashing in treetops, weaving shoelaces
into their nests, forcing lesser sparrows
to parent imposter young while they soar,
motionless in a pantomime of flight.
Pantomime Man, on Royal Street, frozen mid-
stride, in tuxedo cut-offs and a top hat—
he smells money. His hustle? Photo-ops
of himself high-stepping with tourists.
Handling a stuffed gator and my toddler,
he poses, and they both freeze while I get
my shot. The magic over, his foot drops,
and pigeons scatter, a slow-motion labyrinth.
World Labyrinth Day—an excuse to wander
without people stopping to ask if they
can help me find the treasures I have lost.
If someone asks, I seek the hands of statues
broken off by time, the attention span
of church builders, their labyrinths a type
of pilgrimage—devotion to the far-off,
impossible dream of a finished thing.
Imagine a life spent untangling
the geometry of curves, enabling
seekers to bump against the edges
of the holy. You’d be untouchable,
with a throng gathered to watch you work—
silent, still, swallowing giggles and prayers.
My head’s so crowded with giggles and prayers
I’m called irreverent, mistaken for drunk
because I’m goofy with a bloody mary
at Mardi Gras, before the roller-derby
running of the bulls. Feast day every day.
I’m ready to take to the streets, parade
behind coffins or icons made of corn.
What shall we feast today? How shall I praise
our patron saint of floods, the Cajun navy,
rescue boaters cruising river streets, shouting,
pulling a lady from her sunken car
and then going back under for the dog?
You’ll know to grab what you love most when
the boaters ring a bell as they approach.
Who among you can hear a bell’s voice
travel underwater? I dare you to say so
because then you know when the wafer wall
between other days and feast days wavers—
you’d know the chimes: a sacramental wind
in prayer flags, or dogs barking. You’d know,
and you’d be obliged to respond in kind.
It is lonely work, to open your mouth
with no one listening, a reflection
of the natural world, its glory trampled,
plastered over with barnacles of neglect,
set down in layers at the speed of pearls.
Underwater time. That’s how it starts—
with barbs of grit, like fishhooks in my mouth.
Strange words, as though I swallowed a fishhook
and now I gasp, renouncing all but life
to be cut free. The fish I’ve ruined—mullet
and perch—enough to fill a wing net.
I took every tremor seriously.
Fooled by micro-leviathan nibbles,
I reeled in baitfish, golden shiners.
The underwater tug of each son’s birth—
they fought being yanked through a wound, they wailed,
their first battles in life lost. I wasn’t
a milk-gushing mother. I was afraid
to touch them. I had no words, no tears,
nothing but shudder and blood to my neck.
An unseen hand pulled their names from my throat.
An unseen hand pulls these songs from my throat.
No one listens. They stare off into space—
my children, students, maybe God tunes out,
payback for all those times I shut my ears,
vetoing the madness of midnight poems
out of laziness. Too busy with nothing
to open the notebook, jot the freebies down.
I’d jump awake if the house were on fire
and never look back. Why not when God strikes
with seizures of clarity breaking through
the brain’s electric mush? Epiphany,
inspiration, communion with the living God—
call it what you want, but erase your resting
bitchface and boredom’s snarl—the spirit’s alive.
I look bored, but I’m filled with the Spirit—
thus speaks my son, zombified in church.
He moves his lips, creases paper cranes from corners
of the service sheet. That counts as prayer, I guess,
not a creed but close enough—to zone out, stare
at what you want through so much haze
that it appears. The ass-in-seat approach
to religion. I understand. Sometimes
all you can do is show up, stand and kneel
on cue. The words and answered prayers will come
or not, storms unleashed from blackened skies,
or they trickle drip by drip, barely enough
to whet the faith. Those days, I tell myself
I feel amazed. I force myself to dance.
Amazing universe, all dance and dazzle—
sometimes there are no words. I have to point
to simple things—the hummingbird’s polite
sipping of the iris, bird smaller than
the orb spiders stitching golden webs,
dew-laced, draped over ditches the duration
of my commute. Of course I yawp about it.
I woke up hoping for ordinary,
but I tangled with mystery instead.
I can’t see straight, can’t keep track of it all.
Once more, starlight slants through me and I’m shocked—
a deer caught in dwindling dawn. I’d make
a fantastic carrion bird—clueless,
cocky, every roadkill meal a banquet.
I’m a believer in makeshift banquets
with enough of whatever to go around—
gnarly excess zucchini, deer sausage,
the jambalaya pot holding as many
servings as there are guests, invited
and uninvited both. It’s like magic,
or tact, or the manners my mother taught:
when the food runs low, fill yourself with bread.
These words were not her personal credo,
but a phrase cribbed from the White Trash Cookbook.
Meant to be a gag gift, not prophetic,
but the holy—who knows where it blows?
Same with wisdom. Can you be a wise man
and taste nothing from the altar of riches?
I confess to counting weekday riches,
keeping score though I claim to have renounced
the bullshit gospel of prosperity.
I pledge myself to a different plenty—
shaking it with the blues-tent tambourine
ministry and joining the all-faiths choir.
I score my chatter with a constant hum
and a heave-ho shifting of the body.
Highly recommended. The weeks my vision
abandoned me I looked through a blanket
of haze and wept eye drops in the back of church,
the stained glass reduced to an opal blur.
To sing, I followed along with voices
chirping from the mouths of perfect strangers.
Dear ones, perfect strangers, in dreams I’ve wept
silent tears for my Medjugorje lies.
I never climbed a mountain on my knees
to see her, but said I did, like everyone
who pointed to nothing and called it her face,
heart shaped, raining goodness from the clouds.
I believed in statues with flood-stained smiles
but never saw miracles, was never healed.
Instead, I took solace in ordinary
things—paper umbrellas in my coffee
and walking the clamshell labyrinth of graves
looking to scrub the most neglected tombs.
How embarrassing, to genuflect
to ghosts while weeds swallow your footprints.
Did weeds erupt in my footprints as foretold?
Not over time, but the instant I moved?
Maybe not, but I do see tiny worlds
in stones, the landscape jasper that I clasp
at my throat so the desert walks with me
and I become a mystic of daily life.
One morning I woke for a museum pilgrimage
and saw nothing but saints—peasant saints
peddling their wares, gaunt creatures, their faces
illuminating prisons of darkness.
Gilded versions of under-the-sink martyrs,
aglow, crucified to pillar candles,
offered their thorn-braided hearts to me,
a pilgrim marked by the stone at my throat.
There are the end-time pilgrims, disciples
of God’s silence, and then there’s me, ecstatic,
ritualistic in my stumbles on ordinary days,
on World Labyrinth Day, with a stone in each hand,
my head crowded with giggles and prayers
and the sound of bells rung underwater.
Strange words. As though I swallowed a fishhook,
an unseen hand pulls these songs from my throat.
I may look dead, but my spirit is alive.
I’ve worked myself into a state of amazement
at what began as a makeshift banquet
of weekday riches. I call on you to testify,
perfect strangers, that I weep for no reason,
and my footprints fill with flowers as foretold.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.