There was the first time the ocean called to me
in its many voices. Sudden and bizarre,
I thought, that it would choose me
of all people, circling, as I was, my ego,
wrecked, as I was, in my own splendor
and drunkenness, landlocked, as I was,
by my own understanding of the body.
The voices of the ocean were not mine,
I understood, for I did not love them at first.
The Blessed Virgin appeared in Lourdes,
and she appeared in Fátima, and she appeared
in Medjugorje, and in each case, she chose
as her messengers children and townsfolk,
people I imagine with bad teeth and good faith.
Easy to worship a white-dressed anybody
in the time of dirt, in the time of frayed cloth.
Easy to worship a woman who knows how
to disappear when the policemen come.
Still, they did not all become nuns or priests
or even daily communicants after her visits. Some did.
Others farmed and fucked like they always had.
At my father’s funeral, my first Mass in months,
when my brother asked if I’d gotten my sins
forgiven before taking Communion, I lied.
Holy, I thought the body, and dark.
Broken, I thought the body, and dead.
Rebel, I thought the body, and sang
the dank, sweaty revival of sex, sang
of what is risen, what is cast out and gleaming,
what power I sang of, what noise,
and I carried all this in my heart,
and the songs smeared across and over
and into each other, and this was called guilt.
If the Blessed Virgin had appeared to me,
glowing Technicolor on my fridge
or ambushing me as I pissed outside
in an alleyway behind my neighborhood bar
one night at 2 a.m., if she’d hummed secrets
of divine mercy and the nation’s future
in my ear, soft as pillow talk, her breath
hot with heaven, if this had been an ecstasy
afforded me even at my most zealous,
I would’ve ran fast and far, ran with the speed
a dream moves in, ran for the crazy fear of God
I’d never held in my heart, mad, finally,
with the ache of certainty. Instead,
the ocean called to me in its many voices,
too unknowable, too far away for fear.
Symbol, I thought the body,
and proxy, with a belt swung
to bare flesh of back for sins,
with beer and vodka and lemonade
cauldroned together to welcome
the happy summer, with scars
and gold stars for show. Canvas,
I thought the body, and simple,
with fasting and feasts and haircuts.
The ocean called and I loved myself
too much to be ready. I loved myself
too much to really love myself, or my mother,
or the gentle swing of my city, or whatever
hums so soft we call it silence. I was loud
and useless. I was the bravado of steam
and the weight of it, too. How else to say it
but that one must lose his life in order
to find it and I was dying, but not losing.
I don’t remember the music from my dad’s funeral,
but I’ll bet it’s still out there, somewhere,
the memory of it tiptoeing the coast,
bodiless in its remembrance of the body,
a kind of apparition, unmoved by the wind
flapping around it, the waves smacking themselves
raw, and there’s a couple walking the beach,
I’ll bet, in awe of the ocean’s harsh song,
looking out to the horizon for the other side.
About the Author:
Michael Mlekoday is the author of The Dead Eat Everything (Kent State University Press, 2014) and a National Poetry Slam Champion. Mlekoday serves as Editor & Publisher of Button Poetry and teaches at Indiana University.