“Redemption preserves itself in a small crack in the continuum of catastrophe.” ~ Walter Benjamin* Besides St. Sebastian— famously pierced with a quiver of arrows, tied to a post and abandoned for dead then miraculously nursed back to life— what other saints can we call on in these pandemic times? Some people think he was kind of a whore for suffering: as soon as he was well, he went right back with redoubled zeal to the same emperor who ordered his execution. In Palermo, one of cities hardest hit by the coronavirus and still on lockdown, the people prayed to Santa Rosalia and carried her bones in procession through the streets, bringing an end to the plague of 1624. She'd lived in seclusion for decades, shunning the world's vanities, alone in a cave on Mount Pellegrino. No parties on a Florida beach at spring break. Not even choir rehearsals in church. Then there's St. Roch, described in stories as born with the mark of a red cross on his chest— I wonder if it was a port wine stain or hemangioma. Traveling through plague-infested towns, miraculously he cured the sick with his cross. His name reminds me of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle— not exactly a world beset by pandemic, though all the characters face one natural calamity after another. Body bags keep filling trucks and sidewalks. Mayors and doctors go on TV every night, pleading with people to stay home to flatten the curve. Sebastian, Rosalia, Roch: the Book of Saints names that moment when the deadly cycle breaks, a miracle. Not hyssop nor sage nor cordial water. Not turning to calculating profit over PPEs, masks, and respirators. * Thanks to Peter Stephens for bringing the passage to my attention.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (website) is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, September 2020). She was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2020-22, and in 2021 received 1 of 23 Poet Laureate Fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Mellon Foundation. She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015; she also teaches classes at The Muse Writers’ Center in Norfolk. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.