Betsy Sholl

Elegy with Sacred Heart

It’s always winter when I think of him,

gray skies, fog seeping up from the harbor

through the rougher streets of our town.

 

He’d scurry on icy walks,

past the saint-crammed Catholic gift shop—

a small skittish man glancing furtively.

 

Bored punks would turn as he passed,

then,  forget it, they’d lean back, not worth the hassle….

And so he’d escape unscathed,

 

our neighborhood  pilgrim, cross-wired

and benign, part of SSI’s ragged intelligentsia,

exhausted by his meds, but happy

 

to pin up flyers for galleries and open mikes.

And he was pleased to hover henlike

over his briefcase of smudged verses

 

typed off the paper’s edge, apocalypse

in cross-outs and coffee rings, where angels

fling down fire, the poor shake off coats of lead.

 

I thought what he wanted me to see

in the darkened church were apostles in blue

and red glass robes, their scrawny fingers stretched

 

toward heaven.  But, no, he loved the small

expressionless moon-white faces set in each corner

like children peering in from the cold.

 

Blank souls, he said, waiting for birth into

our school of sorrows, wanting our bright clothes,

no matter where those colors come from.

 

Just to sit with them, he’d set out in winter dusk

through a warren of streets and half-streets

as mist thickened its glaze.  Sometimes

 

the janitor would find him curled in a pew,

prayer book open to the place where you could

fill in the names of everything unwanted,

 

unfinished, given undignified ends.

And now for years to come, whoever turns

the pages of that book, searching for a sign,

 

will find his jittery ink, and not knowing

of the stones the kids sometimes threw,

or the bus that backed up and killed him,

 

they’ll just see these half-drawn waifs

staring back from the margins, as if in love

with every fumble and ache of flesh.

 

And over them—I dog-eared the page—

his bright scrawl, Don’t be afraid, Do not—

underscored three times—cry any more.

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