As Much Salvation as One Can Believe
For George Looney
I should start this poem with a priest
pouring a shot of whiskey, but that would
make it one of your poems, not mine.
But now I’ve already begun, and I know
you could make be believe an angel
sits in a chair opposite the priest.
So I will give you the priest and add fire
rolling in the hills over town, smoke
black as a cassock filling the sky.
Black at noon, blacker still at midnight,
thin seam of fire visible and moving
above them. There are no angels
and, for now, no fires where I live.
I will tell you it has rained enough today
to drown any angels or any good intentions.
It’s hard to consider salvation if
your first thoughts are safety or food,
or if you are shaking for the shelter
of a drink of wine or whiskey.
Just as I imagined the priest.
The way we both imagine lives
and try to fit them into crude boats
of song, somewhere they can float
safe from fire, the water deep
and slow as the motion of wings.
The priest is tired of promising heaven
with no strings attached. The angel wants
to fall into flesh and live in the world
he once scorned, to search for
a woman he danced with
on his last mortal night, when
he was human and owned a future.
Outside the dance hall, he wrote her number
and bent to hug her. When he recalls
the soft possibility of their bodies,
the lemon and honey smell of her,
the motions of clouds, of prayers
the priest has lost, of fire all
vanished into the flood of memory
and that rises with it, all
the salvation we can believe.