By Kelli Russell Agodon
Previously published in Small Knots (Cherry Grove Collections, 2004)
I can count the women in my family
between the wooden beads of my rosary.
They are the small knots, the tightness,
the holding —
the ones embracing the fragility of sons
and fathers between their soft bodies,
and the lives they watch leave them.
I can count the number of prayers
spoken by men at the dinner table,
disguised as promises
they slip out the backdoor
even before the apple cobbler
has been removed from the oven,
the smell still hot in the hands of the burned.
I can count the number of nights I have listened to Hail Marys bleeding
from the walls, and how many times I have
wanted to break the chain
sending the fifty-five beads scattering
like the families who prayed to them;
I imagine collection plates around the world
filling with broken rosaries, imperfect
virgins escaping beneath stained-glass skies.
In the whispering corner of the church
a suffered woman unties
each knot, the sound of beads baptizing
the marble floors, the sound of women
leaving the church hand in hand in hand.