Ed Skoog - Three Poems
The Unwalled Maze
St. Roch Campo Santo, New Orleans
The hand’s shadow on the whitewash is like
a priest running out of words
in the summer chapel, and then
the blue sky of a desert traveler.
Visitors stroll the dry canal
between family and fraternal
tombs, trace carved name
then hurry forward to the tall
spire at the walled cemetery’s core.
No singing today, except
what one hears from the wax
Jesus in its glass box
like a beetle in a child’s capture.
their fitillaried shelves.
Off to the side, a chamber.
Iron gate keeps one away
from the plaster of St. Roch
the wealthy, blinded martyr
and the dog that walked with him,
keeps close ex-votos from
the hopeless, for whom he
is said to advocate, along
with the falsely accused.
Wall texts which one can
still make out, despite dis-
repair, explains the shrine
built “in fulfillment of vow”
by the priest trying to save
parishioners from yellow fever,
in the poor years after feverish
civil war, poor from capital
having been separated
from the bodies of enslaved
African men women and children.
The chapel is all about bodies.
One may hear of distant
parents having met here
as a place for the unmarried
to pray for partners. One
does not know how to act
around the dead, or the living
in the presence of the dead.
I’ll drop the Elizabeth Bishop
and Stevensian pronoun now
that we’re comfortable here
in this space I’ve been working
on for a few decades, with
what materials I’ve been
provided, what methods
I’ve stolen from those
ahead of me, while I
try to guard them in the
guise of teaching from
generations forming even
now, as these tall tombs
tell about all professions.
Even graverobbers learn
from relatives the slow, precise
ways to perform the miracle
seizure of goods through brick
without being detected. Done
right, and a visitor would never
know the rings and necklaces
and gold teeth have disappeared
through holes in the masonry
delicate enough to seem the work
of bees, perhaps, or weather.
They only need two rods, one
to hold a candle affixed just so
and one to roust what shines.
They have lost the reverent posture.
They should be in charge,
visitors to the afterlife.
In the church I grew up in,
we didn’t have bodies,
so when I started visiting here,
my stifled or unstifled laugh
was just part of my gentrification,
white pushing out black, protestant
out Catholic, indoor work out out.
Nowadays, having moved on,
something I hope other than exotic
perplexity brings my mind back,
not just to the campo santo
and its hanging hands, legs, jaws,
but anywhere I’ve been different,
or the difference, or differential.
The title of Anne’s first book
accounting for her life in the city,
born into it, was going to be
The Unwalled City before it became
The Futilitarians. But for me,
trying to find my way out of an
instant is like trying to pacify
the searcher of an unwalled maze,
what it must have been like here
when the lights went out,
and night calmed the stonework.
Nothing was exotic then, these forms
entirely themselves, and if grace
shared itself in the breeze’s sonata,
then it has always done so, coastal,
permeable, solemn, stark and solved.
Like loose teeth, the kid and parents
fall away they can’t
even hear each other now
the rare, lost timbre of singing
moved farther to hear better
across kitchen, yard, whole snowy
owl wingspans of slate towns
when the coke
comes out the mother is one point
lighting constellated foil
that holds the rock in its dimple
yells soft music
converting time into gas
and despite knowledge, he
thrushes for it, the clever night
We walked flagstone close
to buildings in Querétaro, past
some kids playing Dungeons
and Dragons in a courtyard,
rolling the bugbear dice
while above the aqueduct tilted
Across the alley
a woman in the tattoo parlor
got tattooed, some figure
emerging shoulder to hip
while friends drank and spoke.
How sound other lives seem,
and what was the tattoo of
what joke as a bus went by
and rain drifted in
while the clock struck