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Eugene Gloria

09-20-08

The Law 

 

When the civil guards approached me
and asked me for my papers,

 

I pictured the face of a sunny saint
being disemboweled on the rack.

 

Widows in perennial black, addicts of prayer,
find comfort here the way monks

 

in hair shirts must take to penance,
or me, addled in my blissed-out days

 

in San Francisco, tugging daily on a roach.
And that's how I must've been,

 

befogged in Ávila on a visit
that coincided with the papal tour.

 

A murder of crows, clerics, nuns in wimples,
tarring the field with their black habits.

 

St. Francis de Sales dispenses, "The measure
of love is to love without measure."

 

This republic of goodness
was once peopled with spies. Maybe

 

that's what got the saints in trouble,
their willingness to surrender

 

once found out. I know authority
when I see it make a U-turn to pull me over.

 

I also know that the Burgos Christ
in pageant-red skirt is tethered to a story,

 

its weals and welts, blue-black,
the wounds Nicodemus witnessed as he

 

lowered Jesus, alone in his discarded body.
The carving by Nicodemus

 

would one day float its way
first to a monastery, then to Burgos.

 

When the civil guards approached me
and asked me for my papers,

 

I felt for a string around my neck, my scapular
like a leaf pressed on the road of pistils and stamens.

 

That moment stood
for something I can no longer recall.

 

What with those men and their gift
of whiteness, their constant need of proof.

 

I must've smiled at them, clueless yet longing
to be profound.

 

                    -from Hoodlum Birds

 

Saint Joe
                 -after James Wright


When the choppers churned and swayed
the swift brown current like a field of cogon grasses,
we dropped a rope below,

but the native girl, no older than my daughter,
was too weak to hold on, and let go.
We had to leave her to refuel, though we knew

what the river would do. When my duty was up,
I chose to come here, for humid sheets over bamboo beds,
for some honey in a slip--

a ninety-pound rice cooker named Ronda
and the soap dance she's known to do. But hardly for love,
as I wait with this man bent in my arms.

When the Coca Cola truck hit this pedicab driver
you could see his rubber slippers fly
all the way up the second-floor window.

His body thrown five meters from his cab.
I imagine the Lord Jesus descending from his cross,
a good marine saving the dead in limbo

But on this god-forgotten street a crowd gathers,
crows peck and gawk, and name me, "Joe."
Their faces tell a separate story, each one

ending with the sweet by and by like the girl
whose hands slipped at the end of my rope
dancing above the fury of a bloated river.

A man in a suit sloughs off, whistles for a cab,
a flotilla of rubber slippers converge on a two-inch lake of rain
A pair of white hands, mine, reach for his limp body.

And from the swollen streets, an ambulance calls,
draws closer, louder. And I hold on,
listen to children chant "Joe" in the rain.

 

                -from Drivers at the Short-Time Motel