He’s a silence that moves among us,
along rows of men patients
or wrings out drab ravelled blankets
with a partner he never speaks to,
in the scent of wood-ash lye.
Gray-faced, a slim young heron, he’s
in wings of silence over
a tea mug and sawdust cookies,
alone in a channel of sun
between lines of drying sheets on the
He’s adolescent raw
at ankle and red wrist-bone,
earnest and Irish, ashamed
of his body. That traitor’s become
a sinister foreigner with
an anarchist penis, an umbrella
in a wind storm, leading him
to no brave new world but a land
of flesh, where one false move
will detonate him straight to hell.
His mouth full of cookies, he sits
unsmiling over his tea.
I try to draw him out,
ask, "Are you ill?" He shrinks,
a salted snail, at the word
diarrhea and shifts me quickly
to the spirit,
says people here,
just ordinary people
have a better grasp of the soul
than his family priest in Chicago.
I enumerate the symptoms
or giardia — diarrhea, cramps, gas
he go to a clinic but don’t explain
that Hindus disbelieve in the soul
and have another cookie.
is no good without its attendant evil
"If the number of the poor is
we'll lose our jobs." Sister Nirmala,
Mother Teresa’s successor.
It's a sort of deal:
On one side God controls
the bank, owns apple blossom Heaven
and Hell’s in-the-red embers;
while on the other, there’s
an international, blue and
white wimpled corporation.
In the account between is the currency
of the poor:
In yellow flowered gowns —
unnamed but numbered — they’ll wear
God’s amulet who'll help.
Deposits toward salvation may be made:
Circle death with beads of prayer:
sleep on concrete:
hold a patient’s foot as
another cuts away the rotted skin
repeating sternly, "Be
still. Be still," to the deposit
who’s flinching from the pain.
An increase in currency is always desirable:
Orphans and gaunt children of malnourished
the cash flow of life,
are the commodity of salvation.