Mudlark Poster No. 92 (2011)

Sisters by Liz Dolan

I Longed to Be as Lovely | Mary has chosen the better part...
How I Loved the Way Sister Hooked Up
I Didn’t Give Up Easily | When We Were Young

I Longed to Be as Lovely

as Sister Purissima in her opal linen gown
her tanned cheeks backlit by her veil
like an angel surprised, longed to script
the green alphabet above her head
in elegant loops, to gesticulate like her:
fingers to cheek when pleased,
over her mouth when not. In her loamy voice
I longed to say, How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog... I never thought about unused eggs
or night screams sewn into silent corners
or being driven insane like Theresa of Lisieux
by another nun’s beads clicking against oak.

Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

                                                                 — Luke 10:4
Awakened by the mourning of Harlem
River fog horns, groggy, I peeked through 
the black window guard over the fence
into the concrete yard where twenty-one nuns
billowed like black sails into early mass
in the gray haze. I slipped
my wool sweater over my pajama top and toweled
the sleep from my eyes. I abandoned my hollow
-cheeked mother to the cowled baby howling in the cradle
and dashed to kneel behind their domed veils,
shoulder-to-shoulder, a medieval, fallow flank,
candles radiant
                       like saved souls before them. Woozy
from my midnight fast, in a tallowed, incensed swoon,
I longed to sneak into their hallowed heaven, wound
in white linen, unaware dark habits lurked there, too.

How I Loved the Way Sister Hooked Up

her floor length linen scapular
into her black leather belt and cuffed 
her balloon sleeves to keep them clean.
As our last classmate skipped out
the door to summer, my buddy and I
filled a porcelain pan with bubbly water
and scrubbed each desk erasing
inky archives of another year. Ripping
paper bag covers from books
we stacked spellers and math texts
into ordained spots lonely since September.
Stripped of flawless essays festooned
with johnny jump-ups we had cut out
to hasten Spring, bulletin boards paled.
Then for the last time in fifth grade
on the third floor fire escape
we conjured huffy ghosts
with clapped erasers as June sun hazed
us for completing another year, a small
ritual built into our brittle lives. Sadness
settled over me as I whispered goodbye to
Sister alone in that sterile room not knowing
if I could ever love that much again.

I Didn’t Give Up Easily

Wine-sopped, wafer thin, I dervished
drunk, a faith felon questing to be unfettered:
flung spirit in this fleshy, flabby world.
I teetered on a steep cliff until
I buttered  bread
and fondled sweet earth again.
But not Terry McKenna, thirty pounds fatter,
a prodigal postulant with too much flare,                         
on the night she returned, and daisied 
in her mother’s house dress.
She savoyed at the Inwood Lounge
and quaffed foamy beers
chased by succulent nuts.
She told me: I’m dying here; you are, too.
But I persevered, purging out
the old leaven, taking on
the new man, the white veil of the novice.

When We Were Young

Norma Jean and I had the same last name
which we both changed because she longed
to be a star and I longed to be a saint.
While the steam from a subway grate
billowed her vanilla skirt up to heaven,
I shrouded myself in opaline linen
and the stiff veil of the novice.
As she exploded on the big screen,
I scratched the Rule like a hair shirt
til my face soured white like a millstone.
I shriveled into a scrupulous bag of bones,
so the folds of my habit would fall
with the grace of a dancer, not the grace of God.
As I chanted Introibo ad altare Dei, she oozed
Diamond’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend
in a cerise sheath, stripped off elbow length gloves.
As I inhaled the host she was devoured
by the camera’s web. I thought I was letting go
but I was holding onto a life a yard wide and all wool.
But Marilyn couldn’t hold on while her therapist
paraded her on a Freudian red carpet,
not to a cloister of peace but back to a maze
where her schizoid mother split in half like a ripe,
summer melon. Sleepless she swallowed pills
while I awakened, staggered backwards to my old self,
to the twenty-year-old I was meant to be
who burgeoned like cherries on a bough,
who grew her hair ‘til it brushed her waist
and penciled the arches of her eyebrows.

Liz Dolan’s first poetry collection, They Abide, was recently published by March Street Press. Her second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, is ready to go and in need of a publisher. She has been published in On the Mason-Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers and has also won a $6,000 established artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts, 2009. Liz is most proud of the offsite school she ran in The Bronx and her nine grandchildren who live on the next block in Rehoboth. “They pepper my life,” she says.

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