Finalist for the 2013 Walrus Poetry Prize
What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.
The friar’s hologram greets us thusly. Says if our souls
are pure and good we will see a vision of immortality.
Think St. Pio of Pietrelcina. He bore stigmata for fifty
years. Worse than my monthlies? Here’s an image
of Jesus bleeding; the red of his thorn crown disturbs
me. The friar was a good man. He walked with a wicker
basket collecting alms while sporting a metal vest
beneath his blouse. Teeth dug into his skin, rubbed
his flesh raw. Like a ribbon around his finger, pain
reminded him of sin. So he made penance by gathering
bits of bread and pails of milk. I’m hungry, can you fetch
me a snack? My whip chases the devil out of my fat
and strikes the switch that turns me on. We enter
the monks’ undercroft, find six chambers in a candlelit
crypt. Beside the mounds of holy dirt, I spy a human
skull with thighbone wings, spiny light fixtures. Jaws
locked in intricate floral arrangements: pistil, stamen,
mandible. Savour this: we enter the hall of pelvises,
the crypt of shinbones, skeletons with scythes crafted
artfully. The Princess of Barberini hangs from the ceiling.
We see couples drop to their knees. We are moved
along. In the Corridor of Exaltation, visitors lie
at the feet of friars half rotted away. Such displays
distract me from rear wall detailing: a coat of arms
made of crossed arms: one clothed, one muscular.
How can I keep my memory of this moment clear?
Like cartloads of bodies pulled to the friary and air-
buried, time eats away at our memories, no matter
how dear. Then the gift shop, and a woman I follow
outside. Her short black hair and Ray Bans. Wedged
heels, tight grey jeans. I wanted to be her, in Rome,
and disappear down the street talking on an iPhone.