None of Us at Prayer
The first morning the dogwood flowered, we slowed down
to watch the petals guttering above the ravine floor. The branches
were candelabra, this had been said many times before, the woods
a cathedral, that too, but we were young, innocent of names
already given. We knew picking dogwood was forbidden,
so we dreamed of sneaking out while others slept to break
whatever branches we could reach and run with them like torches
through the tunnel of oak and maple that by day was just the street
we lived on. We would whirl and spin the white-tipped branches
until the flames thinned, then wait while our senses calmed, the petals
reignited. The first one I touched shocked me with its thickness,
its wet. The four bracts swirled pink at their centers were the wounds
of Christ, the nuns had told us, and if we were pure in prayer, our palms
might open some day and bleed of their own accord as the dogwood bled
while we dreamed our way through the tunnel, lit by our stolen torches.
Years passed and still none of us had dared to pick one branch,
even one blossom, for fear we would be mutilating the persistent body
of Christ, though by now we were old enough to know the stigmata
came from hysteria, probably sexual hysteria, unholy fervor.
And we were old enough to sneer at descriptions of dogwood as
candelabra, at our dreams of weaving white torches through the night.
If we sneaked out for anything, it was apt to be boys, who waited like trees
in the dark and pulled us into them, wordlessly. So whoever it was
who broke the first one off, reached out one morning on the way
to school and slid the jagged branch through the buttonhole
of her blazer lapel, saying So let them arrest me, none of us could say
with certainty now. Maybe none of it happened. Maybe none of us
lay dreaming of the flames of dogwood dipping and arcing while we made
our strange circling procession. But we are all marked by it. Look at
my palms, the emptiness. The cathedral in ruins, and none of us at prayer.
Poems by Lynne Knight:
TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets