The Nine Ways of St. Dominic – a poem by Cecil Morris

The Nine Ways of St. Dominic

She made her prayers arrows and fired them forth 
from the bent bow of her heart, from the curve
of her need where she nocked each shaft on sinews
redly supple and listened for the fletches'
sizzle in flight.  She wanted to pierce heaven
with the sharpened ardor of her entreaty.

She had already tried prostration, flattened
herself—fitted sheet face down under slow
unblinking eye, the prickle of God's green 
grass an irritating mortification,
pressing a chaotic pattern in flesh 
of her cheek, forearm, and exposed stomach,

making her itch outside and in, the smell—
earthy dirtiness, growth—reminding her 
of her snaky lowliness.  She had wanted
forgiveness, notice, and something she could
not say even in cloister of her skull,
certainly not in the yard with the children 

at play around her.  She had bent before 
in adoration over these children,
each in its turn and all together, all
miracles beyond understanding.
She had held each one like an open book, 
like an offering entrusted to her,

each a wonder that grew in mystery.
She had felt each inside her and feels still
each so keenly that she must clasp her hands 
over her heart and clench her jaw.  She has
given herself more than once for each one,
spread her arms wide in universal sign

of welcome or surrender. She has made
an offering of herself, pelican 
mother.  She has stood back, her arms raised,
her palms out, the model of surprise 
or fear or thanks, her own heart awobble 
on unsteady legs, on first bike with wheels 

tilting, turning, rolling away, and then
returning, gratitude welling in her,
replacing the prayer she thought without saying.
Her children were her scripture, and she studied
them, each finger and nail, each hair she brushed
and braided, every smile and tear, each fold

of flesh or whorl of ear she washed and washed 
again.  These were the Rosary she worried
and treasured, the roses on which she prayed
and meditated, day and night, the joys 
beyond all number and prime, like starlings
wheeling as one according to God's will.

But now, as her children's lives turn from her 
in widening gyres, she presses her palms
together, raises them, stretching her arms
higher to lift her pleas to the right ear
of heaven.  She closes her eyes to the blank
blueness above and holds her breath and waits.

Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English, and now he tries writing himself what he spent so many years teaching others to understand and (maybe) enjoy. He has had a handful of poems published in Cimarron Review, Cobalt ReviewEnglish JournalThe Ekphrastic ReviewThe Midwest QuarterlyPoem, and other literary magazines.

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