Five Poems | Liz Dolan
Teresa of Avila, Mystic, Reformer, Exhorts Her Sisters
Liz Dolan is a wife, mother, grandmother, retired English teacher; she is most proud of the alternative school she ran in the Bronx. She has eight grandchildren who live on the next block. One, David, has Downs Syndrome; he was born when she was grieving the loss of three family members in four months, one, an infant born dead. Now she knows David came to help her heal.
I, a bare-foot, foot-loose pilgrim, wandered in the heavy Castilian air, took bread when sick from the pierced hands of Christ. And thus, Sisters, I know you can do this, you can surrender your leather zapatos, the brooches pearling your beads, your perros fatted on roasted beef yelping in your laps. For you, I, have slept in lice-infested inns, endured lawsuits and venomous gossip, fended off the Doña with the patch oer her eye. Soon I will shed this flimsy carcass and its sweet odor searing your nostrils will move the worldly fools who need saints to do strange things. La vida es sueno. Tell them, Sisters, mi corazon, now encased in jeweled rock-crystal, an angel once pierced with a fiery gold-tipped arrow. They will enshrine my emerald-ringed finger on the cathedral altar in Avila. Later Franco will sleep with my left hand by his side.
Your ticking watch, held close to my ear, delivers a message from you, believer in radiations: caloric, electric, sonorous. Its hands move long after the wheels of that three-ton black carriage stilled you forever in the Parisian rain. I place my forehead on your coffin andwas it a wind?that cooled me, told me, fear not. The glowing ribs of your body touch me in the blue light we worshiped at night. The spokes of your crushed black umbrella lie twisted by the door. The overhead fan casts shadows over the marsh marigolds you chose, still fresh-petaled, next to the washboard by the kitchen sink.
It is all about light the luminous light of the mind and the silver white of the radium we worship together at night. And the absent light on that rainy day in Paris, Pierre, you beneath the black umbrella, blind to the carriage that robbed you of light forever. And your proteges eyes that move me to surrender my black dress for white a rose at the waist. His mind vivacious his luciferous wife blind to it. She threatens to kill me, calls me a Salome, a Jew, a Pole. And luminous watch dials the factory girls paint pointing their brushes with their lips. And the light that fissures my fingers and bleaches my bones so they glow.
To Anapu, Para, I came forty years ago to teach the dirt-poor peasants: manioc, first, cocoa, then coffee and peppers. I will decay like leaf litter, empty myself, nutrients weaving into the under story of El Yunque. They call me Madre Mae. Rose rings of light coil sinking through the umbrella -canopy: alizarin crimson, ultramarine, viridian, as rain runs off the drip spouts of leaves soiled by filth we cannot clean. It is Lincolns birthday. I should have feared the horns in the bushes, the flat white face of death. Now the lianas vine about my ankles, bromeliads and periwinkle grace my requiem, blood speckles the rain forest floor; my best blouse berry-stained.
In the photo from Froomkins studio on Avenue B Ada Abrams poses, diploma, bouquet of roses, sweet peas in hand. Like wax wings, a bow spreads behind her cinnamon curls, her brown eyes clear; her future sure. For eighty years, she has lived in 633 East Eleventh, apartment 1C, first floor, front, that red brick tenement purchased by her father in 1905. Married at nineteen, she left for ten weeks.... Now her only tenants are crack head squatters in 3D and scrawny rats, their teeth clicking, tapping wires day and night. She stuffs the empty apartments with tables and chairs she scrounges from gutters as though they are rented to Ashkenazi ghosts. On bloodless New York days, she cinches her fathers overcoat about her waist like a Franciscan with a white cord. Her grey hair matted under her wool cap, wispy curls unfurling, she screams at the vermin on her stoop, You fuckin scum, get off my property. I implore her to sell, to find safer ground but shed rather linger by a table at St. Ephraims, where the brown-gowned, sandaled priests men she thinks odd for choosing a celibate life ladle the chicken and spinach onto her plate.