Practical Holiness

Ann Elizabeth Downer

The women are airing the babies,
but they are not revived,
these lotus-eaters fastened to the lotus of the breast,
the strange flower of the nipple.

Fat, forgetful, swollen, seamless,
like the milk-white pigs
dreaming from their hooks in the truck,
unzipped by the knife and relieved of their pearly entrails,
waiting to be blessed by the butcher's one sharp gesture.

Stunned, stupefied,
their features are pressed into grimaces
by mother's arm, or the stroller's.
Amid these limboed babies one who has been weaned
reclines in his mother's arms,
having found peace,
that absolute center of gravity.

In a shop window,
coals of colored glass give forth no heat,
no omen.
A young man passes,
a flower tattoo around his neck like a garland.

It is not the sacrifice,
the garlanded calf,
that wins us grace,
nor even the sermon,
promised us at St. Aldate's Sunday at ten.
It is the rain that redeems,
settling the dust and heat,
returning us to memory
as to the sea.


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