SAINT ANTHONY'S CHURCH
Instead of a large oak door, a loom. Instead
of mosaic windows, wedges of fruit.
Instead of a poor box, a loaf of bread. Instead of holy water, gin.
Instead of pews, beds. Instead
of hymns, gossip. Instead of the Stations-of-the-Cross,
instructions on how to build a kite out of canvas, sticks. Instead
of an altar, a butcher's table. Instead of the nailed palms of Christ,
the warm hand of my father on my shoulder.
in Three Candles Review
Now here is one brilliant poem -- by none other than fellow poet-blogger Eduardo Corral. Hey, hey, we have a true poet in our midst! I'm going to watch out for anything else this man has to offer...
I am reminded of an a North American aborigine (otherwise misnomed Indian) who said to a missionary who was trying to convert him, "If your God is so great, why do you keep him locked up in a little house? We pray to our God under the sky, in the forest, by the rivers and lakes!"
So with this poem. The contrasts surprise not only through their precision and beauty but by the conclusion the author leads us toward. There are a number of St. Anthony's, but the one in this title is obviously Saint Anthony of Padua, the saint for whom St. Anthony's Feast is named and who is traditionally invoked for the recovery of things things lost. In this poem, themes and images are one -- and the images so beautiful, that while the poem (despite that pious title) is actually an attack on the institutional self-aggrandizement of the Catholic Church, it's also a celebration of the beauty of Catholicism, of a Latino heritage, of the closeness of father and son ( father can be taken two ways -- but as I take it, the small "f" father is the real Father, the big "F" Father, a kind of imposter). Actually (backtracking a bit here), "attack" is a rather simplistic description -- the poem is also an appeal for a deeper, more authentic spirituality, recognized by the Catholic Church and exemplified by Saint Anthony himself.
Anyway, enough exegesis (or attempt at exegesis). That same friend of mine tells me he actually cried when he read this poem (I sent it back to him as a response to the one below, saying "this one's of a whole other order...). I'm more dry-eyed than he is, but this is one poem I would have loved to have written. But of course, one would have to have been brought up a Catholic to write it.
Interesting that both this poem and the one in the post below advance by a series of contrasts to an arresting but wholly natural resolution. Unlike the poem below, however, this one would never have been taken by The New Yorker. It provides the real food.