When he held it out, I ran
my fingers over the shredded
cartilage of the nasal cavity
and the sutures that fused together
the cranium, the tip of my finger
gone for a second when I poked it
inside a shadowy orbit,
then into the occipital socket
that once linked
the skull to the stretch
of missing backbone.

The braincase and facial skeleton,
the mandible with so many lost
and broken teeth, all the parts
Sister had drilled into us
during science class balanced there
in my hands — that skull my friend’s
oldest brother dug up on a dare
from the graveyard on the grounds
of the shuttered asylum
where, years before, the city fathers
had locked up those mad men
and women found roaming our streets.

The flicker from the brother’s lighter
in the darkened room played over
a crack across the skullcap
like that in the relic of the martyr, kept
under a glass dome, we’d once venerated
after Mass — a holy man stoned to death,
Sister warned us, for his strange clothes,
wild hair, and shoeless feet, the singing
only he heard, and all those shining
visions no one else could see
of a blinding and everlasting light.