Audio: Read by the author.
Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rome
On the ceiling, a skeleton of a girl,
a princess of the Barberini,
her bones precisely pinned to make
of her a centerpiece. And round her,
a curlicued oval made of vertebrae.
More vertebrae cross the ceiling,
and down the walls large flowers spill,
their petals subtly curled and turned—
scapula, gathered and fanned
I am underground,
on a path through small rooms
lit only by delicate chandeliers
of finger and knuckle bones
wired together, shedding a soft
light on the group of worshippers
who tiptoe through. In one room,
a niche on the far wall, outlined with
skulls three across placed so precisely
they become like abstract shapes
of holes and solids, blacks and whites,
curves and orbs. In the niche,
a skeleton monk in his brown Capuchin robe
leans toward us, one hand raised
in blessing, or warning.
In one room
with no bones, on a ledge,
a small heart-shaped casket of lead,
which bears the real heart
of Maria Felice Peretti,
grand-niece of Pope Sixtus V,
who called herself
the mother of the Capuchins.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Harper.
Cammy Thomas’s poetry collections are Inscriptions and Cathedral of Wish (both from Four Way). The latter received the Norma Farber First Book Award. A Ragdale Foundation fellowship helped her complete Inscriptions.