The dark night is a lie which floats around me
a denial of the lamps and cars and houses,
but true to my soul, which can no longer know
what will could possibly light them
my feet find ground as firm as ever,
except the odd puddle from six days’ drizzle
and my lips press steady against proud psalms
to Joyce, and Dostoevsky, and the Devil.
My back still feels the welcoming bed,
a repose surfeited by groggy, open thoughts
which can no longer tell one day from another
I was compelled to abandon for the hour
only by forgetting how to live
in a house that’s filled with strangers,
momentarily I’ll return to it, not from recollection
but because it is the only destination.
I don’t know where to go, in this city.
The shops disgust me, my friends are living,
and here I am deprived of gravestones;
in Austin I might visit schools, to see what’s happened
since I wore them out, ill-fitting coats
or secret parks where I saw some life unfold
which, despite myself, I could not fully own.
I could visit the bars where men and women pray
at the altars of each other, but out of fear
abandon faith for wines and beers and liquors.
The hospital comes up on my left, on its hill
some church holds prison a charming centenary
I pass by but do not try the doors. I have always known
that they were locked to me. In the valley
where the trucks dock, and the workers carry
neither lives or corpses – there, by design,
the doors will always open. Standing in the wide white hall
I feel a stunning reverence. Truly, this is an honest place
and good, and old, and neighbor to salvation.
There is a light, an all-consuming light,
but if there is a congregation, it is locked
behind closed doors, in cabinets and cubicles,
so we cannot intrude on a person’s soul
by knowing what they’re praying for. Feeling
unwelcome, uninvited, and unsure, I walk
as silently as possible up to the lectern,
trace the edges of the Holy bible, and look out
over the empty pewes. Here is where our kindness
is truly put to use. What use? God only knows,
and that’s the way he likes it.
A nun with hurried step presses her authority
over my appropriated stage, I try to ask her what
the rules are, and the expectations in this place
but can’t quite find the words. She points me to the exit,
but having nowhere else to go I feign ignorance
and ask where the bathrooms are.
Her face, which softens then into its natural state
turns to indicate a nearly hidden hall. I sit down
in a bathroom stall, turn to face the rolls of paper
but cannot bring myself to give confession.
It occurs to me that, for some, this is not a house of worship;
most of its visitors can afford to buy their blessings wholesale
and do not give themselves to health, but take it as if by force,
a fifty milligram communion – while on another floor
men like me, the proud, the hopeless, and the poor
take a different kind of Eucharist. I hold this place in reverence
because its doors were open to me, but its gates are barred
and any prayer I say comes with the understanding
that I am letting words out uselessly, they are placebos
which any sinner can afford. The bells ring out
but I can’t say what they’re ringing for.
Making my way back to my room, I wring the book I carry
between two hands, my lips cannot separate or close,
and I can’t remember the psalms I sang before.
The night is dark, and college students walk
whispering to each other past perfectly manicured lawns
into cars, and restaurants, and homes. They discuss a dance
a social faux pas, a video game, a meal. They laugh.
My feet find the ground, more firmly than ever.
They rattle on like stones on stones on stones.