Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2015  v14n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Fatti maschii parole femine
for Sister Marie

In other words, speak softly or carry a big [unmentionable].
Is that it? And this from the colony given to Catholics,
a place, Sister Ann said, “we would have been safe.”

In the sixth grade, your City of God, something grander
coaxed from your shrewd hand: girls filling their palms
like the deadly spoons of catapults with chalk erasers
to be smashed clean. Boys assigned Dickinson for interrupting
any female voice. My throat rasping with the spume of
pastel dust, my journal awaiting the day I’d dress
your age: nubbed sweater. Silky tihts. [Sic], lovesick.

Bernardine Franciscans wear brown or beige—the colors, they think,
of poverty. White or black detail not proscribed where it does not distract.
Then you: suits of fawn, peahen, morel. Cola coats, beech-bark hose.
Coco Chanel on safari. As for why God brought you sisters
instead of a man—Speech is for need and for good, you say.

At the official dinners you seemed to hate, your back one quiver
of jasper flame, the bishop’s housekeeper asks if you care
for salad. I care for twenty-three twelve-year-olds. For my mother
when she is ill. I do eat greens, yes. Our Lady of Holy Disdain,
we offered our low speech like an aspic of pigs’ feet. You returned it
as a spray of bone meal. Whoever loved you loved the force of refusal
in a hide strop, in frozen turf. Loved God.

When God scared us too much, we made him a bad joke. To “host” someone
was to put him in one’s mouth. “Lent” meant a partner
borrowed for the night. Transferred to a desk in a childless town,
you filed insurance for sisters’ matchstick legs, applied
for their used eyeglasses, for the garish orange bus passes
the halt and wounded use for free. I see you in an unburnt pyre
of stamps and carbon paper, their lightless tongues
wrapping your fine lone wrists. All I know of you thereafter

is inference: in cedar stench of steam-trunk coats, in angular
luxe of doe stepping across compost—O woman of Jerusalem!—
in quart of milk sour on its cold grate but furious, gorgeous white.  end  

The poem’s title is the state motto of Maryland, variously translated from the Italian as “Deeds are Men, Words are Women” or “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words.”

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