Pleas/e: A Meditation

Is it from habit,
this attitude
of supplication?
And is habit therefore
merely another name
for desperation?

Votives line
the metal box, six-
tiered, in the center of which
lies a locked drawer with a slit.
Lit up, their amber flickering
is restless and beautiful.

How faithfully
people come to write
on little slips of paper
their intentions, leave
confessions they cannot entrust
to a human ear: pleas/e.

It is the nuns that collect
the prayers of the faithful,
change the flowers
in the vases, the altar
linens; scrape the hardened
tallow from the metal plates.

As a child I watched them
from the cool of a church pew:
filing out in pairs, kneeling
in the nave then smoothing
the skirts of their habits
down on each side

before prostration.
The name of their convent
stated the vow they’d taken:
perpetual adoration.
They sing hymns, but speak
little. On one side of the chapel

is a door with a window grate.
Deliver a letter, deliver a tray
of eggs so they can pray
for fair weather. You might see
the slender tips of fingers
briefly loosed from a sleeve.

Not a hair escapes
their cotton wimples.
Not a narrative of skin
to clue you in. Did they
dance, turn cartwheels
as children? Did they flash

their legs, wading,
in the sun? Did they have
parents, lovers, who implored
Pleas/e— do not abscond
from this world? Here
they kneel in prayer,

chaste/ning in the folds
of a quiet bell— though I
have known them too
to link their arms like rosaries
in the street, and stand before
an army of advancing tanks.

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