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St. Nicholas of Lycia, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker

In Turkey they scarcely knew my name—
Father, they called me. Bishop. And every day
they came to me one by one and spilled
their sins in the dark, spat their own damnation
through the slot, my dim face on the other side.
The other priests were the worst.
Forgive me, Father, I dream of her on my mouth
like grapes, wake to the taste of wine
They never asked me if I wanted their sins,
never asked my name, but I took them all
nonetheless, baked loaves for the poor
from the heat of them, scattered them
like rye seed over the rectory’s sandy garden.
When the famine came, they slowly forsook me,
their stomachs too empty to sin. Only the butcher
still came to confess. Every day he entered my booth
to offload himself, the load a little bigger each time.
Forgive me, Father, I have doubted.
Forgive me, I have fornicated in my heart,
with my hands. Father, I am hungry
When he told me of the three little boys,
how he split their flesh from bone with his cleaver,
laid them in salt to cure like swine, I knew
there could be no forgiveness for me, for him,
for any of us. I tore my vestment from my body,
ran bare-chested into the streets purpled by dusk.
Inside the butcher’s shop I laid hands on the barrel
of boy meat and brine, plunged them into
its cooling depths, felt their names on my skin,
I swear I did. People like to say I prayed for the boys,
that I cinched my sainthood in a matter of seconds,
three miracles in one as the boys sprang from the barrel
clean and whole and blinking like new foals.

Posted 01/29/11
"St. Nicholas of Lycia, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker" was first published in Copper Nickel, vol. 14.
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