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Chapel Limbo

My friend unlocks the heavy wooden door,
A shaft of light pierces the desolate dark,
A puff of air freshens musty silence.
A chapel, French style, bulky wooden pews
With broad unpadded kneelers.
Now no Kyries for daily Mass -- only
Dust and boarded up stained glass windows.
Altar barren, Gregorian chant mute.
I bow my head, sorry I had come.

We walk on the tile floor, footprints in dust.
Nuns’ frenchy narrow stalls line the walls.
The marble floor apse is missing the rail,
The brass communion rail with fleur-de-lis.
Nuns chant of Compline in ethereal tones
Now fades and blends with angel choirs.
I step boldly into the sacristy
Where priests vested in fiddleback chasubles
Off limits to us student girls.

Free to roam as if backstage at the Met
On a dim day after the last curtain
My school days seem that remote, the school leveled
To a rolling park where lusty cheers
From soccer fields invade the reverence
Of the brownstone place rooted in holiness.

The vandals come after dark.
A fire here, graffiti there, hip-high weeds
Cry out for the Irish gardeners.
The chapel looms, like the Mariner’s ship.
Its vaulted ceiling an upturned hull.
A ghostly presence in a corner of the park
Outside, inside, an unresponsive limbo.
Where lived the grandeur and splendor
Of the old school’s heart.

-- Cecelia Johnson

The Lepers Who Let Us Embrace Them

Youthful, healthy, oozing joy,
Francis gets the credit.
Yet what of one who watched
him coming, dreading charity?

The first numbness in his hand
had been the signal; then the
flaking skin; now the stink of
decay: a body rotting from within.

It was enough: watching fingers,
toes, limbs left behind like careless
trash. He did not need the wealthy
boy, did not want to be a symbol.

Which one is named saint? One rose
beyond hostility and shame to grace.
Centuries owe the leper thanks; he,
compassionate, accepted Francis’ kiss.

-- Kathy Coffey

Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center

Dawns and dusks are dangerous
for flowers here.
Daisies, freshly bloomed,
barely stretched out infant petals
when snap! -- off with their heads!
And the stems
like green spaghetti
stand witness to another heist
of the marauding deer.

Retreatants love their sightings
of a “Bambi.”
Sister Rose, though,
trying to trink the grounds
with colorful blooms for Jubilee Day,
is not so thrilled.
She’s researched solutions
but coyote urine is scarce.

So deer continue to hide
in nearby groves
and spy on her botanical whimsies.
when she goes to night prayer,
they emerge brazenly
and tiptoe with ballerina grace
across the grounds
to munch on saplings.
Or what might have been
prize-winning roses.

-- Sr. Patricia Schnapp, RSM
Adrian, Mich.

The Color of Underground Seas

Where it surfaces, up from the aquifer’s
Sunlessness, bubbled in wellheads that plumb
The depths, their water is mined clear
As liquefied diamonds, faceted by the sprinklers
In any system of pivots spinning false rainbows
Over the corn. The true rainbows arch
Underground, colors solidly fixed in a crouch
Beneath rock ceilings, in narrow layers of dark,
Where rainbow rivers run into rainbow caves,
And the light is the surface water relayed
Through strata of amethyst, sapphire, and jade.

-- Nancy G. Westerfield
Kearney, Neb.

2002 in Poetry

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

Poems should be previously unpublished and limited to about 50 lines and preferably typed. Please send poems to NCR POETRY, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111-1203. Or via e-mail to poetry@natcath.org or fax (816) 968-2280. Please include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number. NCR offers a small payment for poems we publish, so please include your Social Security number.

National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 2002