St. Rose of Lima
Lips weary with chapped hallelujahs,
you went to church and learned the power
of patience. You used to sit in the pew
and wonder how long it would take before your tears
would turn to blood, how many prayers
you must memorize to be worthy
of that kind of miracle.
Stained glass windows glowed
multicolored portraits of a woman
in prayer. Rose was your patron saint.
While writing this poem you discover
she’s the protector of florists,
embroiderers, and “people ridiculed
or misunderstood for their piety.”
Your brother’s laughter rings out
from across the kitchen table
all these years later. No one ever asked
why your hair was falling out.
While you pretended not to notice
the bald spot on your scalp, you collected
the strands of hair and fashioned them
into crosses. In school you learned Lima
is a city in South America,
but all you could think about was her forehead
wrapped with spikes, her waist weighed down
by an iron chain. She made her bed with broken glass
and stone. The thought of her locking the door
and burning her hands burned like a looping film
on the inside of your eyelids.
You knelt at the cross and kept your hands
in your pockets, pricking your thumb against
the thorn you found in the garden.
For years, you slept on the floor
of your little sister’s bedroom
afraid to talk to the darkness alone.
You asked god for a new
mattress. Nightmares shattered you
like mirrors. You turned the lights off
and on and off and on and off and on.
Isn’t this the cost of being alive?
You challenge yourself.
You rock yourself to sleep.