Amazing how the prayers come back,
———the cues to stand and kneel and sit,
the hymns rising after so many years
into the air of this small old church.
———We lean together in summer
sunlight as the priest wafts past
in an incense cloud and the small choir
———sings off-key in corner light.
Yesterday you asked what church was
and who lives there, and for a while
———I felt so bad I could see
all my grade-school nuns shaking
their heads at me, Father Flatley
———putting down his Chesterfield
to tell me how many decades
of the rosary I’d need to say
———to be absolved,
but most clearly I could see my parents,
who left me little but this God
———they went to their graves
believing in and asking for forgiveness.
I want to tell you how good it feels
———to be back, that I can see them
beside me in the pews, dressed perfectly
in the clothes my sister and I
———would bury them in. I want
to tell you more about them,
about their many years of nights
———slumped in our kitchen,
the only light glowing from the tips
of cigarettes that would kill them.
———But that’s for me to carry.
Some words fit best underground.
There may come a time for them.
———Until then, since you
brought it up, church is a building,
or a service, or a group of Christians.
———It’s also something
you can give, so I’ll give it here:
a blessing to a young woman
———at the start of something or,
like you, the start of everything.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.