Joseph Bathanti

Agnus Dei, Winslow Wants a Gun, Omega Street
December 19, 2022 Bathanti Joseph

Agnus Dei

The shearer’s come horse-back from Solo –
shaven head, golden beard, ear hoops.


The ewe cowers in the crib corner.
When she tries to run,


he clamps her between his chaps,
muscles her to her rump.


She sits the straw floor, prim as a sheep at tea, beneath thatch,
in a picture book, fore-hooves limp at the fetlock.


Her eyes are indigo, black-slash irises,
murky bodement of cataracts, teeth like feed corn.


Perhaps her name is Esther, Millicent: high-born,
elegant, about to remark in Shetland lilt


on the unseasonable chill, incessant mizzle – jolly enough,
kettle on the hob, snug in her ancient gnarl of Appalachia.


Yet pensive, resigned to this final shearing,
she’s exceeded her life span by half,


her carded dower the woolens of each baby born heir to this plait.
Clippers rev, then flash the comb and blade shears,


sweat of the shearer – black leather singlet,
scarlet bandana, flannel trousers – as he carves her,


cleaved to him, from her weir.
His work is a mercy.


She closes her eyes, rocks back in forgettery.
Fleece scrolls from her –


bound volumes, therein archived:
the milk-tooth of a bear cub, an eaglet’s feather,


a bard owl’s ossified heart, wedding band,
possum skull, Cherokee potsherds,


the 31st Chapter of Deuteronomy torn from King James.
Released, burnished and blinding as a chalice – Immaculata


she barges into Holy Saturday’s dripping emerald,
bundled in fog, pink the Mayapple blossoms,


then runs for the moon dangling from its nail on Agnes Ridge.
Beyond the Shipley line, from the balcony


ornamenting the front gable wings of the Horton place,
strains a mandolin, then a woman singing:


hard-hearted Barbry Allen.
To its shoulders in flood dread,


Linville Creek readies its bed.
Purple-hrouded mountains genuflect.


-from Light at the Seam (March 2022 from LSU Press)


Winslow Wants a Gun


Winslow outs this Easter Sunday
over coffee and dessert
after the ritual family feast.
The children raid the house for chocolate.
They scream as if terrified.
“I need a gun,” Winslow proclaims.
Everyone freezes:
red espresso cups,
custard spoons poised at their mouths.
People shot dead
because they don’t have guns.
How will they protect their families?
I tell him he’s safe.
He lives in a wealthy, guarded township.
He doesn’t need a gun.
“You never know,” he says.
His friend Todd bought a gun.
I know Todd.
He doesn’t need a gun.
Winslow fixes me in a frank gaze, like:
This is for your own good.
This is sound advice.
“You need a gun,” he says.



Omega Street


The crosshairs of East Liberty,
the shaved sight, the true bead,
like an M-16’s, is the T
Booze Alley slashes


from Larimer Avenue into Omega Street
where handsome Emory,
the light-skinned refined black boy
my Marseillaise grandmother,


Suzanne Marisse, dotes on,
reads Countee Cullen on his stoop;
and my Napolitano tailor
grandfather, Luigi, paces, night


upon day, hands clasped behind him,
prickly serge waistcoat,
gray fedora, eyes to earth –
a sealed, silent vault.


In their wedding portrait,
he sits in wicker,
right hand caressing his left,
fingers desperately long;


in his lap, a satin-banded homburg;
blazing collar, cravat, pouting lips,
locked jaw. Pomade waves
rise black from the brow.


I’ve tried not to think of my face
engendered by his, nor his little bed –
two sticks and the mutilated Nazarene
crossed on the plaster at its head –


in the corner of my grandmother’s boudoir,
sash wide to squalling snow,
feather four-poster, embroidered linen,
a dozen rosaries coiled at the pillows.


I’ve his brooding left eye,
half his mouth. In the frame,
Suzanne stands next to him,
illumined Vermeer visage,


open-throat white chemise, gloves,
no jewelry, a lone gardenia
pinned to her chapeaux.
She conjures the future


and will not foreswear it.
I have her right eye, half her mouth.
They say there’s Syrian blood.
Educated in convents across Europe


and Mesopotamia, her father
engineered on the Suez Canal.
Photogravures portray her
flanked by bald Maasai women


in beaded collars. They say,
before Luigi, my grandmother
had a husband that hanged himself.
in the cold earthen cellar with the cheeses


above Suzanne’s locked dowry trunk,
The bathtub is in the cellar
where I shiver in the shadow
of the twirling cadaver


of the past while Suzanne scrubs me
with pumice, green clay soap from the Nile,
and sings Frere Jacques. Quaking,
the mummified coal furnace


drives its swollen ducts through the rafters
like Atlas assuming the world.
From the eight story spires
of Saints Peter and Paul,


morning bells gong:
Sonnez les matines,
Ding Dang Dong,
Ding Dang Dong.

Joseph Bathanti, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-14) and recipient of the North Carolina Award in Literature, is author of nineteen books. Bathanti is the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education at Appalachian State University. A new volume of poems, Light at the Seam, was published by LSU Press in 2023.