V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





Dust rises wantonly, acrid
to the taste: gypsies press one
against the other; tourists, such as I
give them wide berth, for they steal—
or so the guidebooks tell us.
I cannot believe in thievery as I watch
the faithful stroll into the musty church.
It smells of candles and sweat and cheap
perfumes, and echoes the casual sounds
of gypsies bearing candles.  Some men
let cigarettes dangle fiercely but smokeless
as they strut to the crowded crypt: God,
the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, too,
had better accept them thus; Saint
Sara does, I'm sure.

Slowly, I move down the aisle
towards the crypt, all the while viewing
the baptismal rehearsal, listening
to the plaintive melody strum
and sung by proud fathers.
The priest, robed in white,
is a marvel to me, as he laughs
nearby at the grey-garbed nun,
who sings and scolds and keeps
the altar undefiled by wanderers
or tourists, who wish to see a gypsy
in the safety of God's domain.

Attaining my destination, I
descend slowly, slowly
towards light and heat
and Oh, Saint Sara—the candles,
torches of testament glowing,
torches heating the hot day
with fiery light, creating fierce
heat, stifling, choking my breath,
until I make my swift escape!

Seated in what seems the cool
of the church, in the last row,
I think of Saint Sara and of her
devoted gypsies, and I wonder:
Who are the thieves, and who
are the saints?  They do not
look like you and me, I think,
as I face the sun and streets,
watching the people going to and fro,
not wondering as do I, about saints
and sinners, of God and the world
and my place in it, and theirs.

© by Margaret Perry


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