In the church vestibule I pass
the monitor that registers the bodies
of the faithful as gray
flickers, a second of ash
on a screen, and heave against the doors.
At 3 p.m. no one else is here but saints,
corporeal in their sandals and robes,
carrying staffs, books, painted bouquets,
their kind faces cracking
as if they too know
how it feels to come apart.
Wedged into the fingers of St. Jude
is a hand-printed prayer, a paper bud
curled so tight, I feel its plea
for a miracle tug the back of my throat:
cure the cancer, kick the habit–the ineffable
longing of a stranger’s words alive
on my own tongue.
Days later, the hand holds instead
a shriveling rose stem.
Petals lie scattered about
like small, white-robed monks,
backs arched to heaven,
faces pressing stone.
– Maria Terrone