Gospel with Quarrel and Hapless Prayer
Holy Sunday and I’m losing myself to god, singing and shaking
in my first communion dress. At first I don’t hear them fighting in the pews,

only the slight rise and fall of their bodies.
When my father crushes my mother’s right wrist, then the left,
                                                  she twists like a wind chime.
Hand over hand, they push and pull
                                                  as if lifting each other to be blessed.

~

They look small from where I stand on the alter. 

I can see the buttons missing from my mother’s red sweater, how the shoulder pads
                                    are uneven and wing-clipped as she fights from the inside out.

When she shoves herself away from my father, a familiar sound—
her bracelets jangle glints of tiny crosses over the broad archways.

The other children laugh when I release my hands to cover my ears
            because my mother’s voice drops to the polished floor
            as though calling out in sleep, or falling.

Forty faces shift, even the priest turns around. His hand shakes above my head
            and everyone’s watching everyone’s wondering
                        until the usher steps in to escort my mother away.

~

My mother’s grief, germ-like and oblique, spreads through me in one long sparking scar
I trace to remember her sadness is always with me, here in this certainty of belief,
                                                                                                                we will not be saved.

As she is taken away her eyes stay buried beneath a swirl of dark hair.
                                                            She is tired. She is harmless.

My father chases her down the aisle, they don’t think I can see them
            turning and turning, drifting farther from me
                        as though I could cup them in my palms and close them in.    

The pamphlet turned fans, the incense plumes slants
            in the privacy of steepled hands—
                        I see omens everywhere.                   

~

Late spring and juniper berries sprawl
                        along the sidewalks of County Line Road. 

Now early morning snow crowns the ridgelines, claims the flatlands in scratches
and garlands the oaks behind St. Michaels like spliced dovetails.

Here is the beginning of a season holding its breath
                                    for a sacrament that never reaches grace.
Here are all the stains in the glass where the light decays.

The saints’ mouths glow in congregations of solitary flames.
                        My mother’s sobs spin pearls in their shriven ears and we call it holy.
                        Their black eyes ache watching us grow sick, we are sick—

                                                                                                and it’s my fault.

~

When they are cast out to suffer themselves,
I don’t know what to do with my hands.

The procession ends. Bells ring their seizures of mercy.
The marriage ends and I don’t blame them.
Every spring since, the vulnerable parts of me change.

Now the saints have names,
            all we ever did was slip from their sprouting hands.
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