In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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On the night her master darkened and died,
the Volga slave girl, carrying a torch,
visited the tents of all his friends
to repay any favors he might have owed,
to give them his love. Next morning
as night was extinguished by river and tree
she was strangled by his mother,
her body placed on the pyre beneath his.
As the awakening flames licked and ate them,
altering the expression on their faces,
the position of their limbs, they danced
to rhythms of chemistry and wind.
No one who saw their souls ascend, light
as smoke and ash, to drift toward heaven
ever again miscalculated the gravity
of clothing, flesh and bone, flame’s
pure and sure salvation, eternity’s
duration, the heat and height of love.
I can’t pass a church without
going in because, kneeling
in the midst of loving strangers
and their scents, the words all
come back, and in spite of
my ancient tongue they let me
sing along as men make God
and sacrifice, every meal the last.
I love the High Mass lights
and chants because parts of me
grow stiff in cold, because I
owe my soul to the measured rite
of grape and grain, because once
I saw my parents do it.
Raised to go with angels or snakes,
each bed I try shivers with the rhythm
of light, perfect limbs or
a cold restless slithering,
each night brightening to life
only for love, every dawn the first.