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Poetry

for my father

Having pictured the soul as a kind of private moon
that hovered invisibly above a person’s shoulder, when
my mother said a man and woman’s love for one another
could bring their child’s soul down from heaven to be born,
I saw it as a cloud-like orb slipping down from the vicinity
of the Carolina moon through the longleaf pines into my
parents’ bedroom window then vanishing into my
sleeping mother’s womb. Impossible, I knew,

after the emergency hysterectomy subsequent to 5
difficult childbirths in a row, but one year these things
combined in my mind, and week after week in the holiest
part of the mass—when the priest knelt low then rose
to lift the white host and gold chalice—

This is my body; this is my blood; speak
but the word and my soul shall be healed—

or lighting a candle to Mary, herself a mother, I’d
say the same 3 prayers—that Mother would after all have
another baby, that I’d get the sort of doll for Christmas I’d
supposedly outgrown and that I’d witness a miracle.

My birthday being Christmas, I wore the night blue
iridescent dress Mother made for the occasion, noting as
we hurried out to midnight mass the glow the moon at
the back window cast by the darkened tree where

the presents would be. Sang descant that night in
the children’s choir; carols then the Gregorian chant mass,
so that right at 12, as the last notes of “Silent Night” faded, 12
church bells rang and I turned 12; candlelit clouds of incense
enveloping angels and animals, mother, newborn and
father in the star-topped stable by the altar. Back

home at close to 2, tree lights already mysteriously
on; amid presents glinting in semi-darkness, a swaddled
doll in a blue basinet and my first toe shoes.


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