The Immaculate Heart
In the back of the classroom Christ offers his heart
to the students whose faces are turned away.
He holds it in his hands, thrust forward so
the little cross seems to hover
above a crown of thorns that circles it
like barbed wire. Maybe this is a death camp,
prisoners thin as a line of steel posts.
A timid boy whose coat hangs on the peg
just below the portrait can't help glancing up
twice a day. He gets this dose of suffering
because his teacher values order and she keeps him
where he belongs, on the peg between two
bigger boys. She instructs the class in the alphabet
and assigns each child a letter to remember
in the lunch line, in the line for recess, preparing
to board the bus. When they're all standing, ready
to be led toward some moment they knew was coming,
they sound off, and like one more rosary that needs
reciting, the alphabet tumbles out
of their collective mouth. It's her prayer
for the world, all she can do to make things better.
and it's over
except nothing's ever really finished. Things stop,
to be sure, like an unanswered telephone
or the neighbor's barking dog—
ordinary things that lose intensity
the longer they last. Even people
like my grandmother, her two husbands,
the way she used to get up from the table
as if surfacing from a slow motion dream.
And the Cadillac with fins
my father owned, long ago dragged off, still
enormous in my mind,
holding its wax like moonshine.
and the idea of touching what's left scares us.
The idea I had about beauty
pressed like a flower in the crevice of some dull book
or the Mercury dime I set on a railroad track,
thinking I'd come back to a puddle of quicksilver.
A candle at church guttered by its own heat,
a few sparks pale as fireflies.
All my past hanging
like an apple grown fat on its seed,
the worm turning where it's sweet.