The Wait

The priest performs his sleight-of-hand
to a nearly empty cathedral: two women
sit in a back pew, flanked
by three black garbage bags
containing their worldly possessions.
The stained-glass windows are dull
with November light.
–What’s he saying?
–It doesn’t matter. Wait.
There will be free samples at the end.

Under the pew, safe from the janitor’s mop,
the house spider has eaten all her children.
On the back wall of the sacristy,
the sworn enemy of time continues to tick.
__________

Poem modified Nov. 11, 4:00 p.m. and Nov. 12, 10:04 a.m. — see comments for original version.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

15 Comments


  1. Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure I need to drop the line, because what it says is important to the poem, but I don’t like the sound of it. so I will almost certainly replace it if I can.

    Reply

  2. OK..now bear in mind that you are talking here to the seriously poetically challenged. By that I mean, I am both seriously challenged in trying to write it and in understanding it. So.. be kind. I didn’t ‘get’ the last line. Is the enemy the spider, God, or time? If it’s time.. which usually gets the blame for messing with us I guess I should assume a clock? Since the name of the poem is “The Wait” I am thinking that could be it. Time’s winged chariot drawing near for bag ladies, spider kids and us?

    You see, I can’t check the footnotes and see how off I am, as I could with a book. (grin)

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  3. Dave, I like the poem the way it is. The last line is great. Every reader brings his or her meaning to whatever they read. The priest was saying mass and in the Catholic church the host and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ for the sacrifice. We eat God. The spider eats her young. Maybe the two bag ladies are Mary and Mary Magdelene. I like the last line. Works for me.

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  4. Joan – These are the footnotes — you’re helping to write them!

    Time, yes — not God.

    Fred – I appreciate hearing a Catholic reader’s reaction.

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  5. Under the pew, safe from the janitor’s mop,
    the house spider has eaten all her children.

    what a terrific line!

    Reply

  6. Wow!

    This is true, Dave. Everyone in “Comments” is writing the Cliff Notes. (grin)

    Now Fred’s interpretation is just stunning. The religious are truly those people who are used to dealing with the transcendent and with symbolism (and maybe transubstantiation)

    But my semi secularist sad take is how little we are connected with that. The ladies are ignoring the sermon, taking a load off their feet and waiting for “real” food. The priest is waiting for the ladies to pay attention and be saved at least for the time being by taking the spiritual food, and the spider isn’t waiting at all. She is doing what spiders do, living in the moment and for herself. All are equally vulnerable to time. The spider, who has no concept of time will be the first to go. (And although some might hope there must surely be pets in heaven, I am hoping the spider is not one of them. )

    And then of course the question would be where are we all going? Spider dust to dust?

    Tick tick tick.

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  7. And meanwhile the poet sits staring at the unstained glass of his computer monitor, unable to think of a viable alternative ending…

    The clock is on the back wall of the sacristy, I think.

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  8. Your ending is just fine, Dave. It’s our own endings that I’m worried about. (grin)

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  9. O.K., I re-did the ending to bring it more in line with my original idea — kind of a Charles Simic-esque vibe — and added a couple lines earlier in the poem, too.

    Here’s the original version of the poem, which all the commenters up until now have been reacting to:

    The priest performs his sleight-of-hand
    to a nearly empty cathedral: two women
    sit in a back pew, flanked
    by three black garbage bags
    containing their worldly possessions.
    –What’s he saying?
    –It doesn’t matter. Wait.
    There will be free samples at the end.

    Under the pew, safe from the janitor’s mop,
    the house spider has eaten all her children.
    The sworn enemy of eternity continues to tick.

    Reply

  10. Seems to me the women care more about the rest of this day, not much about eternity. Hunger is eating them. Time is on their side. Misery loves the clock God speed the end.

    Reply

  11. Maybe this poem is eliciting such confusion because you have taken a pretty simple act–waiting for food–and turned it upside down and crossways. I mean, waiting for the bread and the cup, the body and the blood (and all that it is?) is clearly waiting for food. But the suggested comparison with the spider mother leads me to think about whose child is being eaten in the host. Once the spider mother eats her children, she is reduced to waiting for another meal. She can catch other prey, or she can conceive and birth more little snacks. Once the bagladies eat the host, the child of God, what do they wait for then? And who’s doing the eating. The spider eats her own children. In the Eucharist, Christ offers himself as food for the patient faithful. Yikes, my head is swimming here.

    (I liked the first ending better.)

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  12. Good, strong images. Almost every line could be the beginning for another poem.

    I liked the first ending better, but what I like even more is the poet’s right to do whatever the hell he likes.

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  13. Thanks for the additional feedback. Q.R.R. and Brett both make very interesting points.

    Hunger is eating them.

    Yes.

    I woke up this morning around 5:00 thinking, “The sworn enemy of time continues to tick”! So on third thought . . .

    Don’t worry, Teju, I haven’t surrendened any of my sovereignty as a creator to the democratic process. But getting readers’ reactions to early drafts gives me an invaluable sense of distance from my own words. More than that, it’s just a fun conversation. I’m flattered that a few half-baked lines should have elicited so many thoughtful comments.

    Reply

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