Athletes for Jesus
is what Sister called them,

writing their birth years
and death years on the board,

passing around pastel portraits
of those holy stoics looking skyward

while arrows impaled them
or lions ripped them apart.

Like athletes keep in shape,
martyrs stayed ready to die, she said,

pacing the green-tiled rows
those fill-in-the-blank mornings

while we wrote in our best cursive,
Cecilia, patroness of musicians,

Barbara, of prisoners,
and I whispered my own words

to Joachim, patron of fathers,
and Peregrine, of cancer patients,

believing, as I still sometimes do,
that someone could hear me,

staring into my desk’s pencil groove
until the room blurred

when I thought of my father,
who on his few good days

could watch a movie with us,
and on his many bad groaned

and hallucinated, crying
one midnight for me, thirteen

and patron of nothing,
to get him a Frosty from Wendy’s.

I drove off without much practice
with Christopher, patron of travelers,

slipping up and down
those ten miles without a hitch,

stopping perfectly at lights,
gliding around corners before

I parked outside our row house
and walked into the dark parlor,

where my father lay propped up
by pillows on a rented bed,

lips blistered, kidneys shutting down,
holding out his long fingers

as I crossed the windows’ light
to set that cold cup in his hands.