In St. Magdalene’s Church, light shines through
the blue stained glass window, through the sweet
incense the priest swings over the casket
and the holy water he sprinkles in final blessing.
Behind him scenes from the saint’s life—
washing Jesus’s feet while the jealous disciples
glare, greeting the risen Messiah on the road,
wound bursting red from his side. At the altar,
Jesus slouches wooden on the cross, gazing
at the words written over the church doors:
Nor Do I Condemn You—Go and Sin No More.
The priest says Jesus walks with the deceased, and I see
a candle in the nave quiver. It calms, but I’m transfixed,
staring for signs that this movement was just
coincidence. And now I’m leaning on his words,
thinking maybe this is my call, my time to be felled
by the gospel’s flame. Seven demons leap
in my throat. In high school at Stacy Newman’s,
all sex and nerves, I swear I saw Jesus’ face
reflected in a window across the way. She wasn’t
a believer, but she was sweet and didn’t deny
The priest assures the mourners that in God’s house
there are many dwelling places,
and the deceased is surely in one.
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you
but only say the word and I shall be healed.
The service continues and the candle moves again.
And again. But random, swept by air currents. No sign
of the long finger of the Lord; no onramp to the road
to Damascus. I exhale and return to my secular distress.
Soon I’ll be at the cemetery hearing last words
and holding a baby rose to lay over the coffin,
its soft thorns sharp enough to jab but not enough
to prick. But for now I’m in the procession,
orange flag stuck to the top of my rental car, running
every stop sign, every red light.