Two Poems by Donika Kelly
In the Chapel of St. Mary's
I can't tell you what happened
there, why I entered the sanctuary,
a non-believer. Only that I
have been thinking about worship,
the altar of the body and supplication,
for some time. My thoughts turn,
as they often do in this season of absence,
to my wife, and how tired a god can get
when called, and too often, for little reason
but loneliness. Of course I don’t mean god here,
but rather the woman I love, who alters
the orbit of my life, pulls me with the density
of light toward her, the draw thinner
when she is farther away, as she is now.
I try to find comfort in the inevitability
of science, when what I lack is faith.
The sanctuary—the stained glass,
four girls saturating it with soft chatter,
small pots of stargazer lilies, a lace ribbon
for each pew—this place is full of faith
in the unknown, and I don’t know
how to believe in what I cannot see.
Tonight, I will drive through the foothills
and into the valley. I will try to make
a little practice, to trust you are with me,
even though you are somewhere else.
Self-Portrait in Labyrinth
We sit in the sun, knees up, and perhaps
there is an ocean if we are feeling
small—a field of birds shaken like a wet
sheet toward the sky if we are well. We come
to these places slowly, try to see what
is in front of us: a robin, the cat’s-
ear or hawk’s-beard, the harbor seals blobbing
the beach, or an otter making good use
of the pier in the late afternoon light.
We lose hold, sometimes, of the field, the ocean,
slip into the labyrinth of our one self.
Sometimes, the labyrinth is like the field,
the walls set far apart, and we don’t know
that we are lost until we find we cannot
sit as we are accustomed—pushed forward
by the roar of the beast whose home this is,
our guts rattled, the wide lane shook. There is
no golden thread, but we remember each
turn, each stone the mortar sets; we remember
when he built this maze inside of us,
unfolded himself to sit now at the center;
we remember, or try, the schooling birds,
their wingbeat a heart at rest; we remember,
or try, the salt wind. We fear there is a way
out, through the trembling corridor, the center—
the beast finally asleep — the scattered
bones—the beast before us. Whose face will it
wear? What good use will we make of our hands?