We sat, the old women and I,
in the church of Saint Anthony—
balanced on our pews as birds
on wire slung across the sky.
They flicked rosaries between
tree-twig fingers, I knotted air
into a long scarf of silence.
What brought us here this afternoon?
(when the Lisbon sun harkened
everyone outside)—apart worlds and ages,
wide echoing valley, such distances
are covered here as a flight of seagulls.
Them and me.
We come, our ancient hearts grasping
at hope. We stare at a liveried altar,
heavy with the distinctions of saint and toddler –
bringing to them our losses, empty and limitless
as the sea somewhere heaving behind us.
Over sacred stone our grief we scatter—
I imagine them lilies each night he gathers in his arms.
It draws us here, stark space below us.
We sway slowly in the breeze
while fresco walls of redemption dampen,
peel—green, guilty seaweed.
We ignore it, the sound of water lapping,
praying we don’t lose, as in time all else,
the small, distant ground beneath.
(First published in Prairie Schooner)
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