Altar Boy

Sin Título, from the series The Tempest, 1998, by Arturo Rodríguez

I am the altar boy with feet flattened by the catechist’s paddle, my skin toasted like stalks of sugarcane at Lent, my shorts baptized in the salt pans of saints. I don’t wear a mask (God hates carnival) but a wool hood, Holy Week’s, that Sister Rose knitted by the charcoal altar, her wooden teeth clacking as she hymned in Latin, the moles on her jowl like prickly pears for penance. My own teeth are those grates that grilled the martyrs, & my little lamb’s ears quiver each afternoon when the wind coughs in fits and pale skies smoke with incense from a clandestine Mass, perhaps on a runaway shallop with sails sewn from stolen cassocks, perhaps on a newborn isle with a thatched church, novices crawling like iguanas around stations of the cross. There’s no home for orphans like us raised in a convent by the wharf where the footless angel blows his trumpet for vesper, and the abbess marches us to the clapboard altar when the cock crows. We sleep in straw cubbies, our sheets those crinkled newspapers that swaddled us like groupers in the foundling’s basket. Hey, you, girl with the twisted neck, your dollhouse will keep on shrinking between your dirty legs. Not even holy water can make you clean. Hey, boy, the more you pull on the kite, the more your house of dreams will get lost in summer’s wayward clouds. Let us live in the meadow, our true home, every bush a hearth, every pond a font: O blessed loam of nettles whose fireflies light the shrine at night, whose blue brooks spread out like veins of  Calvary.
You can read the rest of the PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio in the March 2016 issue of Poetry. All images in this portfolio are courtesy of and with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Sin Título, from the series The Tempest by Arturo Rodríguez, gift of Liza and Pedro J. Martinez-Fraga.
Source: Poetry (March 2016)
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