The National Catholic Review
Michael D. Riley

I am a small ugly woman
whom God, for reasons known only to him,
decided to persecute with holiness.

I have attempted to lose myself
all my life, but he who never forgets
held mirrors up everywhere I turned.

Now I’ve died and they have found the “darkness”
I knew since Calcutta, the absence that sat
like an ugly child on my chest.

I became their narrow fingers reaching out
from filth, their stench no water
could rinse away, their deaths held too tightly

for too long. I became their blank eyes
and finally saw everything. Yet I
knelt beside them dry-eyed and tireless.

I prayed when I had nothing left
but words. I brought back rags
in cardboard boxes that would not burn.

I became an old woman, tired
beyond sleeping. The dead had become
my arms, my breasts, my dry tears.

I was alone. I wished for certainty
more than life. I had neither.
Only old hopes from old stories.

When I tried to pray, ashes flew
around my face. The sign of the cross
blessed my shallow breathing.

Then the old priest blessed me instead.
I was too stubborn to run into the light.
I will outwit my lover a little longer,

I said to the thin air inside my mind.
I thought I heard another one outside the door,
raised my arms toward him, and was gone.

Michael D. Riley, emeritus professor of English at Penn State University, has published three books of poetry in recent years, including Circling the Stones (Creighton University Press, 2007).

Comments

david power | 10/26/2011 - 3:33pm
My God what a beautiful poem.This is probably the one and only time that I have enjoyed reading poetry that was not classical.
I find my mind is choking with the images that you have pressed together.
All I can say is "would that every Saint had a poet to give truth to the lie".

 

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