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A Copper Basin in Florence

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The owner smiles as if she knows me
and pulls out a chair. Beside the doorway
a copper basin lies on its side. Nana Ross had one
just like it, in the kitchen, behind the grocery shop.

As a child I imagined my soul was that color
and sanctifying grace was red, dripping
rosary-like, a kind of divine sweat that smelt
of frankincense, myrrh, milk and straw.

By age nine I had committed a mortal sin,
let Nicki Walshe touch me there and didn’t tell,
made a bad confession, took communion
paper thin and white on my black-spotted tongue.

Nana sprinkled us with holy water,
gave me a blessed rosary from Lourdes,
all blue and purple it was, but I lost it
like I lost the library book, sins mounting up;

the row over contraception with a priest
in the confessional box in Stillorgan.
Sister Anne, white musty face, those thin lips
“How dare you, a girl, question holy men.”

Lying bare-breasted in the long grass with Ciarán,
drinking Guinness followed by Harvey Wallbangers,
vomiting it all up on Pearse Street,
a guy from Tuam holding my forehead.

Walking away from my father’s house, my marriage,
my job, to dance barefoot in a circle of women
who prayed with wrists, hips, feet and drums,
bellies painted gold, Magdalene red.

In the Duomo di Firenze the air stinks of old blood,
paintings heavy with pigment and suffering.
I rinse my mouth with the Signora’s wine
and that copper basin is only a basin, a thing.

Source: Poetry (October 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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A Copper Basin in Florence

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