Draw the curtain.
Find the ground fasted –
an unspoiled, infinite, hushing
white. And planed by rigid light,
a light that slides like golden straps
across a stiff white cloth
one dares not rustle. Steady. Draw
no breath. Listen. Draw
thyself below the fallen snow.
Last night’s frost a shock to all systems.
What goes without saying: the key
turning in the ignition,
the engine not turning over.
Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. The key turning, the key
turning. The engine finally
turning over. What goes without
saying: a prayer. The wheels turning.
Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. Roll the boulder away
from the tomb. In the precise spot
between two towns the channels crack,
their signals scattered in the snow.
Pull over. Catch your breath.
Hear the nausea fizzing up.
This is where the tethers snap:
tundra: white noise, natural light.
No spires to fishhook Heaven.
No bats batting ’bout. No belfry.
Closest thing to a gargoyle here,
a grouse hunched in an alder tree.
No iron hinge, no oaken door;
no room, you’d think, for any god.
The angels get their hackles up.
Hoary-feathered skull-gull roosting,
a handsaw Jigsaw Gothic.
Creaking lightly past the ribwork
and lighting candles on the way.
Flotsam-coloured light kneels on
twelve carved apostles left alone
to digest and to ruminate.
You’ll notice their resemblance
to sailors who have disappeared.
An ancient furnace wails, its warmth
twenty thousand leagues away.
Whatever convoluted way
I come up from the furnace room,
a gravity will draw, will drag
my eye toward the Sacred Heart,
in the foremost lobe of church.
that solar plexus
where all prayers’ limbs’ nerve endings meet,
Introibo ad altare Dei
and feel those closed eyes follow me.
Paul’s First Mass at Corinth
In the warm drone of the first reading
Eutyches falls asleep
and tumbles over a railing
into the worm-drone of the first reading.
Eutyches falls. Asleep
he dreams a bird sailing
in the warm drome. The first meeting
and already, one sentenced to death.
Like Civil War re-enactments,
stamp collecting, priesthood something
a man just stumbles into when
he starts to feel the prick of time.
A radiator’s knuckles rap.
A rats’ nest in the linotype.
The dry tongues of a calendar
with every month epitomized
by one of the Old Masters.
December: the nativity,
Bronzino. But if I flip back
to March, El Greco, his pieta.
That fog-blue skin that Jesus has.
The Marys, Peter, turning blue,
like Jesus took all reds with Him.
El Greco – the Greek – how did he know
that springtime here leaves minute shards
of winter guilting in the bone
three bodies huddled can’t evict,
or all that fragrant red and gold
won’t hold the blue beneath our skin,
that winter here is a lifetime long?
“Down here, now, there’s nothing to be at.
But I worked as a machinist forty years,
and I always did love looking at the stars.
If not for this, I’d have me wife drove cracked.”
An arsenal of copper pipe and salvaged
mirrors he had piled up in that shed,
and a massive hole cut in the roof to let
the stovepipe out. Never mind the damage.
“I saw the Perseid showers once,” he lied.
He had porthole glass for lenses. Scratched to shit.
You couldn’t see a blasted thing. “Well, Father,
whatcha think? Can you see Heaven?”
“Oh yes,” I said, “they’re tinkering away
to try and get a better look at us.”
Seven steps from door to bed.
Shoes. Then socks. Then trousers.
Collar on the nightstand. Black shirt,
button button button, ’til I’m
xxxxxxxxxxxxdefrocked. A priest, naked.
When I close my eyes even I can’t
imagine it. I should prowl out
into the street to mystify
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI should turn in.
Stretch the full length of the bed,
fold my arms first in, then out
Christ. Corpse. Christ. Corpse.
my eyes groping
from bookshelf to sideboard
to phonograph, things left behind
by Father Whosits. This is how
a priest propagates, begetting
antiques and booklice. So do I
populate the earth: sheep after sheep
night after night.
Encounters with Men
A joke, to start.
So a priest walks into a bar…
and the place goes into rigor mortis. You can hear
the difference between talk and conversation:
a nod, a whisper.
Jesus. Never? Can you imagine?
A young fella like that, it isn’t natural.
Yes, well you know what that crowd are like. Keep an eye
on the kids, if I were you.
That’s what keeps the quiet between us
so thick the counter buckles.
When I was five, my father taught me how to fight. Or tried:
held my fists before my face, two knots of little bones
bound in pink crêpe. I’d have to find other means:
anyone can see my hands,
un-cuffed, uncramped, unblistered, clean as paper,
a joke to finish.
“So a priest walks into a bar…”
I feel awkward, shy, afraid.
But here it is, incredibly boring, so boring I can’t believe it’s true.
I never had an impulse to go to the altar.
I thought everything we were doing was awful.
There are many things in your heart you can never tell another person.
“I ain’t real sure,” for example.
Love is a publicity stunt, and making love – after the first curious raptures – is only
xxxxxxanother petulant way to pass the time.
He would have been a great director, which eventually he wanted to be.
I never said, “I want to be alone.” I only said, “I want to be left alone.” There is a whole
xxxxxxworld of difference.
I only said “The diaphragm is the greatest invention since Pan-Cake makeup.”
If a woman makes a mistake unintentionally, I don’t believe she should be condemned
Or shook with such violence that he left ten black-and-blue finger prints on my arms.
You should cross yourself when you say his name.
But once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.
People used to say that I had a feeling of closeness, a great warmth of loving everybody,
xxxxxx that they could tell me their troubles.
But the worst part of it all is this: no matter how hard you try, you find you cannot
xxxxxxpossibly please everyone.
They had to say something about me, so they wrote stories of their own fantasy and
xxxxxxcalled me temperamental and hard to handle.
That’s a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt, and bewildered
and no one gives a damn.
It never occurs to them that one is simply tired.
And hurt, and bewildered.
Love is disgusting when you no longer possess yourself.
All you have to do is to say you want to be alone.
A found poem, made up of quotes from silent film actresses.
Father, forgive me my sins. You see, Father, I had to come see you.
You see, my son – I, I mean, I’m getting myself tangled up.
Wednesday I hung out the wash and I took little Paddy out with me.
There’s never a happier child – Father, he wouldn’t say “boo.”
When I was done I knelt down to see what he’d got into. He was
playing with some kind of jar. No idea where he got that.
He was filling the jar up with ants and shaking them out on the ground.
I told him not to be at it. Why can’t I? he asked me.
Not in a saucy way, mind you. I told him the ants would get hurt if
he kept on shaking the jar – that they were frightened of him,
he wasn’t nice if he did that. But he shook them right out on the ground. I
said “I’m gonna count, mister. One. Two…” Do you think he would stop?
Dead ants. Dead. I tried taking it from him. I screamed myself red. I
could not get him to understand they were … and he
was so big. He kept shaking and shaking. I
struck him. I struck. O God, Father, what a clout I gave him.
Patrick O’Reilly is a recent graduate of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. He has written for untethered, The Partisan, and Numéro Cinq, where he is a contributor. In 2015, his poem “Shelter” was long-listed for Best Canadian Poetry. He lives in Montréal.