The Basilica of San Vitale (Darren and Brad/Flickr)

The old conclude
their silent prayers
and ease their slow bones
from empty pews.
We unbelievers take pictures.
Different dreamers,
aching for eternity.

We and the kneelers seek
a different deliverance.
The cold air scolds all alike.
No smoking censers,
no lit candles to memorize
the dead and our own
corroded innocence.

The worshippers look down,
stooped by the past
and unheard prayers.
We look to the dark glitter
of the mosaicked vault:
the lapis and sea-green tiles
give millions of irregularities

a coherent shape of belief.
The floor’s uneven stones
display creation’s evidence:
duck, leaf, pigeon, tree.
The homely robust glories
diminish and exaggerate
our aspirations and feeble legs.

In the moment, we share
a desire to be released
from mineral existence,
from the daily pain of it,
from pebble and shard,
to be absorbed into
what’s not yet ever here.

The ancients cross themselves,
kiss their raw, clenched knuckles,
rise and leave, like us
hostage to enchantment,
aspiration and need,
as we go our different
but not separate ways.

W. S. Di Piero’s recent books are a volume of poems, The Complaints, and Fat: New and Uncollected Prose.

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Published in the March 2023 issue: View Contents
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