The National Catholic Review
Christine Higgins
In a dream Perpetua beheld a bronze ladder
with swords and spears entwined around the sides,
ready to snare her if she dared not look up.
It was the dream of a martyr, ecstatic to be dying
for her beliefs, a woman, barely a woman,
who challenged her father with the word Christian.

On Halloween, when I was eight, and we were
charged by the nuns to dress as our patron saint,
my mother informed me I was named after Christ.
How that disappointed me. I wanted to dress
as St. Elizabeth in a blue veil with a breadbasket of roses,
or blind St. Lucy with eyeballs served up on a silver platter.

How to be like Christ?
A woman who is my patient says: My son is dead,
but before he died, I got to bathe him
head to toe, even his privates, and we weren’t ashamed.

If I were climbing a ladder to heaven,
entwined in those rungs would be
all manner of things I attend to
instead of keeping an eye on my ascent:
my daughter in her eyelet dress, my silk scarves, my TV set.
Disciples of Buddha say if you do not meditate
about death in the morning, you have wasted your morning.
St. Ignatius asks: Do you prefer life over death?

At times I still dislike my name, Christine,
as if I am to be held more accountable than others.
Remember Peter who denied three times?
I’m not brave like Perpetua. I don’t want
the whole damn empire to know
I am anointed, marked with the sign of faith.

Christine Higgins teaches creative writing at Johns Hopkins University.

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