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was what our nuns called it,
the bread of angels, the Lord’s supper
on the eve of his pure and holy sacrifice,
their black habits hovering over us

like threats, always the rosary
dangling from a curveless hip,
always chalk dust swirled
on the cracked blackboard,

above which the patron saints
sat awaiting our prayers
and Christ hung forever on the cross,
his body the viaticum

that would lift us from that city
toward a perfect union with God
once our souls were freed
from their puny earthly shells,

but only if we followed the rules—
no food an hour before mass,
no jeans or T-shirts, no talking,
get to confession on Saturday,

all the steps laid out
like hopscotch squares for us
to jump from and to,
salvation another boring chore

like homework, dishwashing,
or sweeping the hall stairs,
communion’s great and holy moment
not much more to most of us
than a sure sign that mass
was almost over, our Sunday
afternoons about to open like gifts
set for an hour on a table

before they’re finally given—
football and soccer games,
or “kill the man with the ball”—
our bodies about to slam

each other’s until someone cried,
our teeth slowly grinding
Christ’s unleavened body
until our tongues could fold it

in half, then in half again,
the sum and summary of our faith
going down tougher than broccoli,
the aftertaste of wet paper

tightening our throats
all through the recessional hymn,
which we sang from the diaphragm,
loud as we could, to praise the Lord.


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