for E.J.K.

I used to light candles for you
(after your death had been catalogued in the secret book)
in every cathedral I passed, most in small public squares.
Cold stone, incense, the tall silence, the hush and seal
of the door at the threshold. Though not a Catholic,
I made the sign of the cross and said a small prayer
or more often a direct address to you,
then walked the streets of those cobbled cities,
threaded my way among tourists, bought roses
from a man with a pucker for an eye,
drank beer, and once ate a cow’s tongue.
You were never in those cities yourself while alive.
Still, I tried to show them to you by crossing the squares
in your assured steps and smiling to the shopkeepers your smile.
For the price of a ruble or franc, I borrowed the rose windows,
statues and catacombs, and all that was life and death
and holy and sunlit was mine, for a while.
I told myself you were near. Really, I found you
more often in temporary angels: an old friend
who wrote kind words on blue stationery,
an oboe that held a note without flourish—
but nevertheless, I tried to place you as you,
as you once were. That’s the price I pay for being industrious
and most often unholy. If I ask the skies above those cities
when you will return to me, they answer when you leave her unwept,
and I think I can tell you now, under this summer-dark
sky, in the arms of my own human thoughts, that I am trying.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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