Twice Friar Thomas Byles gave up a spot
in the lifeboats. And so went down with the unsinkable ship
& its confessions: he led a recitation of the rosary
for those kneeling in tuxedos & dresses. The slow slide.
The severe angle. Long after the ship struck the silt,
the chandeliers shook themselves out
one by one. They keep finding shoes on the ocean bottom.
Washed up on beaches. A wreath of shoes floating on the Danube.
Tattered bedroom slippers, children’s rain boots & sneakers are piled
in the middle of Belgrade’s Knez Mihailo Street, with slips of paper
stuffed into them instead of feet, messages for the dead.
A lone sneaker, a lash in the eye of the creek
in a field beyond the hospital. Dragonflies arc
out of the green, wings like two halves
of a temple veil, a translucent body between them,
a body you can see through. Like the missing,
here & not here, those who are gone long enough
we begin to see through them. For them, the words that survive
untouched across languages: Oboe. Fragile. Aorta.
A litany for someone awakened from a coma, a grain of sea salt
on her tongue. And she learns to speak again, in a new English,
a new accent the doctors can’t explain.
And all this light as she surfaces, no chandelier like it,
almost unbearable, so many suns.
Everyone at the hospital in their Sunday best.