Poems from Lisa Zimmerman

Getting Lost as a Child on the Feast Day of Saint Bernadette

First there was rushing sunlight, a cold, clear morning. France in April, a broad grassy plain, hundreds of pilgrims. I was too small to see through the legs of the penitents to wherever my parents and siblings had wandered. Bernadette, sickly and slow at fourteen, sits down on the ground to remove her stockings before crossing a small stream. The Virgin Mary appears to her as light and a wind behind her but nothing stirs. I could not sit down, I could not speak French, I was lost in the sea of the faithful— the priest’s Latin sing-song of devotion, the begging for miracles from the people above me. And where was my keeper? Where was my angel? The Virgin appears to that poor French girl eighteen times. Promises to make her happy “if not in this world, at least in the next.” Does not cure her asthma. Does not save her from her superiors or from tuberculosis. My parents eventually found me between the lamentations of the sick and the outer walls of the basilica. Years of holy and unholy days followed. I would find a way to go on: love under the tongue like a host.

Saint Clare and the Death of Saint Francis

I tell my sister I am too sick to get up, too sick to go to him in his final ecstasy. I am afraid I will die first. I am sad and hollow. I say no to bread, to water. God roots around inside me like hunger. Even in October sunlight falls on the late white roses in the window box; they shake if off by opening. Larks circle and sing above the roof and Francis feels the breath of God enter his mouth. The people of Assisi carry his body to us at San Damiano. I lay soft white petals on the holes in his hands and feet. The sisters and I lean from the window and drench his holy wounds with our weeping.

I know I will go on without him, in poverty and prayer, and never be consoled.

Saint Roch, Patron Saint of Dog Trainers, Invoked Against the Plague

I like cats, the precision of pounce and claw, the brazen way they hiss at the devil, the black cavern of their eyes at night. They remind me of God’s shadow side when He’s just minding His own affairs while we trudge down here alone. But it’s a dog who follows me, house to house. His soulful eyes watch me wipe spittle from the mouths of poor plague victims. He sees my hand make the sign of the cross over their swollen, fevered bodies. He hears my mumbled prayers, deus tecum est. He lies down at my feet when I cry. Children, thin as olive branches, die even though I pray, some to be buried with sisters and brothers, others lowered into the black earth by sobbing parents, those few granted the terrible miracle of living. It’s only a matter of time before I’m sick too. I walk to the woods so I can perish gladly among thistle and daisies, bees droning their song of plenty in my ears. Soon after the dog finds me and every day brings a loaf of bread carried gently in his jaws. It’s no surprise to either of us when a spring bubbles from the earth nearby. We’re thirsty. We share the crusts. I tell him the cross etched on my chest is just a birthmark. He snaps at sparrows. I teach him to sit, to roll over, to stay.

About Lisa Zimmerman

Lisa Zimmerman’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Natural Bridge, Florida Review, Poet Lore, Cave Wall, and other journals and anthologies. Her most recent collections are The Light at the Edge of Everything (Anhinga Press) and The Hours I Keep (Main Street Rag). Her first collection won the Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award. Her poems have been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize. Lisa is a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Northern Colorado.


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