Tuesday Poem

Feast Day

There’s a patron saint for everything.
Nearly all the early ones
were martyred. The world has always been
this bloody. St. Justus was nine
when he was reported
as a Christian. Beheaded, he held
his head in his hands. My grandmother
confessed, as doctrine willed it, weekly.
She was so good, and always right.
What could she have confessed? She knew
the name for every kind of fork
and where to place each one
for the dinner party. The Devil
was real perhaps but not to be
spoken of, God a disapproving uncle
you’d do your best not to disappoint.
Which saint could she have prayed to
when her first daughter, days old,
died for no reason? When she woke,
years later, from childbirth, with no womb
to bear more children? Impolite
to speak of the body and its openings
and its failures. At seventy and seventy-five
she spoke still of driving an elderly friend
to the doctor, but by eighty she’d grown tired
of opening the paper each morning
to find the obituaries filled with names she knew.
Each saint is feasted on their dies natalis, the birth
into the next life. It was my birthday
the day my grandmother died, and so now
we share the day with St. Liberata, St. Gwen,
and St. Luke, whose gospel is the only one
to tell the story of the Annunciation. The saints
can’t touch us, or else they’re ineffectual,
or unjust. Confession doesn’t count
if you say it only to yourself. The first daughter’s name
is my name. My grandmother wrote
her own obituary, and when the paper ran it
not one of us knew what the middle initial
of the daughter who preceded her stood for.
There was no one left to ask.

by Nancy Reddy
from Ecotheo Review 4/18