The Better part

The Better Part

High summer on South Bass Island
and we wanted nothing

of the drunken tourists who littered
the boardwalk or stood belly to belly

at the long pool bars, cheap speakers pumping
a beat sweet and ancient as tribal drums.

The Angelus bells beckoned no one
save us to the cave-cool church

where we climbed to the choir loft,
sweat-slick, dizzy with desire,

and you went to your knees, lips soft
as river moss upon me, my eyes fixed

on the stained glass altarpiece
where a man stood, mild-eyed

as a calf, half-clothed in grave linens
too immaculate for their late service,

the day’s new light sifting through his
ragged palms like hourglass sand

while the woman he loved fell before him,
the chalice of her hands open,

as if to blood or rain, a woman
whose touch he rebuked,

barely able, as he was, to keep his
clotted feet on this earth, aching,

instead, to lift skyward.
I wanted no part of that story

where flesh is exchanged for an eternity
of tedious diminishment.

I asked only for the hymn
of our mortal communion, the sighs

of old timber as I pressed you to the pew,
air redolent with candle flame,

frankincense, and stale perfume.
Even in the breathless afterwards,

when the just-now-sated might cover
their nakedness, turn their thoughts

toward the tattered hem of regret, I knew
we’d chosen the better part,

even though it meant no stone
would ever be thundered aside

to make clear our path, nor bright
and muscular wings descend

to lift us toward some afterlife
where flesh will be cast aside

like the faithful leper’s rags; some paradise
whose tongues of fire are nothing

more than a shimmering myth,
in the same way a hooked bass,

having gained a chance reprieve
from the angler’s line, might return

to its circling school to tell a tale that begins,
not with a flash of barbed silver

through the muskgrass, but solidly
in media res…

the moment something great and unseen
snatched it out of the ordinary

morning, out from the lake’s deep
cerulean gravity into jubilant,

astonishing flight; though it has no means
with which to grasp

the story’s intended conclusion—
which was the pungent creel,

which was the ruin of air.

What are you looking for?