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William Ross


But Then Face to Face


For now we see through a glass darkly

       — 1 Corinthians 13:12


The driver asks my name but doesn’t look back,

       pandemic mask strapped to his face. The taxi

            glides pre-dawn to the airport.


The side window is a video, images drifting—

       neon fast food, car dealerships, streaks of

            iridescent light—the long tracking shot.


In the hospital waiting room, a nurse’s voice finally:

       “You can see your mother now.” The hall is a mirror,

            waxed terrazzo reflecting late afternoon sun,


but 4F is dark. I pull back the curtains and orange light

       floods the room. The bed is empty, blue blankets askew,

            the I.V. half-full, hanging on the stand.


Out the window, helicopter blades rip the air, red belly

       of the beast rising. Hours later, the sky is black.

            The fluorescent room hangs in the sky


where I sit, transparent and frozen in glass.

       Street lights shine through me as I wait for my mother

            to return or drift into darkness.


She recovers and a week later I’m back home,

       two thousand miles away as

            she passes quietly in the night.


Feast Day of Santa Lucia


They came on foot. Soldiers, with burly arms

and legs like tree trunks, to commandeer

you to a brothel and a life of shame.


Your punishment, they said, for refusing to marry

a pagan, and for feeding Christians

where they hid in secret caves.


The men grabbed you roughly

and pushed, but you planted your feet

in the parched Sicilian soil. They strained,

covered in sweat, but you would not be moved.


Chains were placed around your waist

and a team of oxen brought to drag you

to your fate, but the chains snapped and fell away.


The soldiers’ anger was enflamed; they gathered

branches and piled them about your legs.

They set fire to the wood, which burned fiercely,

but your flesh did not.


The only insult to your olive skin was a red mark

just above your collar where a man once kissed

your neck and you fled in shame.


That mark is where they stabbed you,

and the stories say that no blood flowed.

Were you stone or flesh, or both?

Surely a few drops of blood cried from your

living neck when at last they gouged your eyes.


Twelve days before Christmas, in the dark

of winter, Swedish girls wear a crown of candles

on their heads to light the way, as you did

threading the dark caves.


They carry the sweet cakes that fed the faithful.

The headstrong girls with no appetite for sweetness

pluck the raisins and drop them on the ground—

a trail of blood behind them.






The Body of Santa Lucia

After the miracle, your value soared.

Everyone wanted a piece of you—

and pieces were trundled from tomb

to catacomb, from reliquary to altar.


The maid who would not be moved in life

was shifted in death like an army brat:

Syracuse, Abruzzo, Constantinople. In Venice,

smash-and-grab thieves made off with sternum

and sacrum, femur and finger,

but left the head behind. Five days later,

police returned on your feast day

with a bag of bones.


Today, the lady bearing her plucked eyes on a tray

is still revered. Under plastic bubbles on

cards in the gift shop are small circles of cloth,

the fabric touched to some remnant of you

or pressed to a shrine in your honour.


Stubborn girl, you disavow intimacy,

but go into the world in degrees of touch.

William Ross is a Canadian writer and visual artist living in Toronto. His poems have appeared in Rattle, The New Quarterly, Humana Obscura, New Note Poetry, Cathexis Northwest Press, Bindweed Magazine, Topical Poetry, Heavy Feather Review, Passionfruit Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, *82 Review, and Alluvium.

But Then Face to FaceWilliam Ross
00:00 / 01:32
Feast Day of Santa LuciaWilliam Ross
00:00 / 01:51
The Body of Santa LuciaWilliam Ross
00:00 / 01:03
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