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Gail Nielsen

Young Augustines


One night 
on the top of the world 
I finally heard 
the story of your conversion


Who converts to Catholicism these days 
I said to you, 
more than asked 
years back 
—except you and my father 
and capital L Liars who want to do nice Catholic girls 
the especially brazen ones 
kill two birds,
use the faith 
to ask forgiveness 

On the top of high hills, low clouds come 
and set history down upon the earth 

“I came to see I was forgiven 
and Christ met all my needs”
no surprise to me 
my father lost his own father early in life too 
such is the legacy 
we corner God the Father in, next to mother 
and He saves 
the day again, filling in 
that last archetypal empty chair 
at the supper table 
for me as a daughter too, 
only I thought neither of mine ever loved me 
so I went on sensual and spiritual benders 

You told me to write down my explanation 
and send it to you:


deep calls to deep, 
we latch to what’s inside those stained 
glass windows to the soul 
and compensate ourselves a vast arc 
soldered by an earnest desire for good, 
from some forgiving deed
in the messes of our histories
or grace
until we land far enough away from the pain 
and, if we’ve made ourselves true enough, 
He awakens in us there 
the Real Christ 
everything else like salt


I never did hit send. 
All this time I’ve been trying to put my heart on it, 
this deeper quality I sense in you 
I resist with all my might at the same time 
when your voice tempers the truth 
where your calculations cut me off 
how you tell us to “stay tuned” 
you’ve shared with me your secret 
so I’m in the know, yet pushed out 
onto your cold portico again 
Where’d you fashion all this? 
I’ve wondered since I met you. 

You should have seen me before that. 
I was worse than Augustine

Ah, so it is. 
That’s young Augustine there in your eyes 
only to meet mine briefly on purpose 
How deep the river then and how many
say, did she bear you a child?
—really, I want to know, 
this RC girl can take it 
what happened next 

Time flies when it knows who’s waiting for it. 

Since we met atop the world 
the rest of me has descended to meet us too. 
My confession now—
I have discovered that it is my reflection 
my own mendicant past life 
in your eyes 
I can’t get hold of, 
not yours


In the Name of the Father 
and of the Son 
and of the Holy Spirit 

Someday I’ll touch my hands to your shoulders 
and let you and your legend be lifted 
into these summit mists 
love gratis 
if you are indeed a dear brother, ego sum rumex 

In the meantime I can’t forget 
how I wish I could have told you 
(but the vultures of time kept circling us up there) 
no older than Mary, 
a young Augustine and I once 
and he made sure 
the child never walked the earth 
and was lost in ancient history, the memory 
locked only to his past like the fire-thief to the rock 

We have more than you know for each other. 

So in brief moments 
when you do glance up 
I catch the once ravenous me 
wild and pleasured 
still trying to hide a friar’s shame 
and when we get caught up in conversation 
like we did that night 
and need clarification 
or for daring extended looks 
a second or two 
forgive me 
for I’ve been running from the memory 
of lust-turned-love turned inside out 
breathless without 
stopping my whole life 
and I did not expect to meet us all 
behind your fourth-century eyes

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