Padre

So I’m here again, dipping my finger
in Holy Water frozen
almost as solid as my fears
as I enter my only sanctuary:
home more than home

And again I meet my friends, the shadows
both real and figurative:
I’m hiding, tiny below ancient arches
high ceilings in a village to small
to hold both my family and my sanity

And I meet my friends, the shadow ones
kneeling in the back perch I wait, eyes closed
until she taps my shoulder, giggle fleeting:
my ghost, my little sister in spirit
older than my troubles, child-like features

I’ve waited, she whispers, how bad is it today?
And I can’t tell, lips shut by bruised tears
so she beckons to follow, floating shadow
and we sneak away, as sometimes we do
towards the rooms off limits to most

And from the corner of my eye I see
the Padre smiling, knowing what we do,
yet staying motionless, another shadow
who left the tiny oaken door unlocked
and we slip out of sight, shadow girls

In search of solace and books forgotten:
Spoils of Holy War, not so holy it was, she says
right behind my ear, darker than her face betrays
in the silence I step ghost-lightly, almost there
Can’t I be like you, I ask, always here, always safe?

Solemn question folds on ghostly brow: a moment
she might have waited for, feared to face
I hold my breath, try to stop time myself
yet she moves, floating towards shelves
insubstantial fingers brushing spines

Of books old and musty, tarnished gold
by blood and time and evil hands
but her touch a caress, a promise of care:
stopping on a volume thin and dark
jutting out as on purpose (and maybe it was)

She taps it twice, lightly, sad smirk but hopeful eyes
I think only once and follow the lead
pull at linen and come away with a glimpse of magic:
promises of other ways to die and live
by a hand sure and bloodied, but your own

Take this, she whispers, finally, find a way
and we’ll be our own eternal sisterhood
of shadows beaten by false hope
and I’ll share the bell tower, with you, the attic
be a ghost or whatever you like, but be

And I study by candlelight forbidden work
and I come away with hope and questions
Padre, I say, one stormy evening, Padre, is it true
I’ll be damned, can’t enter this refugium?
He laughs, soft wind, unlike my home not home

And he pulls away his collar, shows marks
of war and night: I don’t think so
it isn’t what goes into our bodies
that makes us unclean
you know the words, dear child

I couldn’t, he said, save my daughter
but I could join her, here (you know her)
and we could save others, in all ways
soul and body and spirit
with hope and bread and refuge

Padre, I said, Padre, be my father, too
but he shakes his head, no, not this way
it has to be by your hand alone, I made a vow
but ask what else you need, I’ll give it to you
a coffin nail, I say, iron, from the ground:

Take the nail of a coffin, bury it
under a rowan by new moon, darkness silent
until by full moon you unearth it, take a sprig
of same rowan tree:
let the nail rust in holy water, wait
until another new moon, burn the wood
take rust and ashed, mix with holy water
and a drop of your own blood, pricked by a needle
that never has sewn:
tattoo the magic over your heart
and silently sit in the graveyard
midnight to sunrise, the needle between your lips
until you thread it by sunrise with a fibre of your clothes
stick the threaded needle into a grave and go home
start turning vampire by nightfall.

I have read the words, I said,
will you have me, here? And he smiles,
we have waited for you, come home
any time you’re ready, just be safe
and promise you’ll join our vigil

We’re shadows, but not damned.

 

Graveyard Girl

There’s a little girl
who loves the shadows,
loves the ghosts of ancient times,
often sitting between trees and tombstones,
sneaking out at night,
listening to tales of old
whispered from beneath the ivy,
somewhere in the ground;

and sometimes at midnight
for a minute between days
she meets them for a moment,
the spectres keeping her alive
with company and gentle tone,
hushing her despair and fear
with all their love and memories fond
of other girls who lived before.

The Ghost of the Priest

The ghost of the priest
in the ruins of the church down the road
still lends his ear
to all who need a friendly guide

and so he waits
by the crumbled front steps
outwaiting the centuries
in case you grow weary of the world
in the middle of the night,
awakened by uneasy dreams
or kept awake by bitter thoughts

and you find comfort in knowing
you won’t be judged for slipping out of the house and down the road
in nightclothes and unlaced boots,
neither by neighbours nor priest,
as this is just what you do
when sorrow drives you out of bed
as many an ancestor before

and the village has ever been strong
thanks to one priest too stubborn
to let death revoke his vocation
and so you slip on your boots

and you slip out of the door
hurrying down to the pater
who will listen until dawn

and you know
you won’t feel the cold stone steps
on which all the generations sat

and you find comfort in that as well
belonging so much your body knows
the stone steps mean solace
thanks to one priest too stubborn
to let death stop him from doing
the best thing he could ever do.