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At the Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rome

by Knute Skinner


We look into chapel after chapel
of disarranged, rearranged dead.
Four thousand Franciscans
make up these displays,
their bones placed with admirable care
by an anonymous monk.
From floors to arched ceilings, their skulls
cover the walls,
framing, at each far wall,
the small alter and chancel.
Overhead, more of what’s left--
tibiae, vertebrae, astragali, clavicles, sacra,
phalanges, scapulae, femora, ischia, ribs--
bedizen the pale blue plaster with rosettes
and elongated, floriated patterns.

And within each chapel we find
mummies in cowled robes, standing
as if on guard,
crosses held firmly in clasped, leathery hands.
They face the long line of holiday makers
who come, guidebooks in hand,
to these dim-lit rooms.

We listen for a moment to the nervous
laughter around us,
and then we depart,
contractile fibres and sinewy tissues intact,
ordering our own bones to the exit
where we buy our postcards.


________

Taken from ‘Sticks and Stones’ (1989), page 20.



Knute Skinner
 

Letter to Accompany a Submission
of Verse to Caravel