St. Mary's

i lie where the dead lie out like lepers.

when Sunday School is over i slip out
to the parking lot and enjoy the sun more
than Isaac loved watching that ram burn
up to a blackened crisp rather than himself
because his father only knew what he was told
he had to know. God was deadpanned but i
looked up and the sunlight shimmered through
my squinting eyes.

in confession i told Father Tom
that my grandfather needed healing—
he said he knew because Grampa ate
the Eucharist from his hand every Monday
and his bite was getting weaker. i was ten.
he used to open beer bottles with his teeth.

lying in bed while above me the Vijen gazed down
upon this frightened child, i only knew
the cross my mother made from the dried palm
that was pinned above my doorway
next to the smoke detecter. i only knew that
the vent beside them both blew hot air
and palms burn so easily—if anything was my death
it would be that palm, the perfect kindling
for hellfires.

St. Mary’s always smelled like smoke
from cigarettes and incense, from fire and ice.

i can only make empty claims that i
will lie on my deathbed and say i wish
never to lie where the dead lie out like lepers
because i saw the smoke, prayed for fire
and thought my Grampa was such a fool
to open beer bottles with his teeth—
i prayed that my father would buy a ram.

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