Proof of angels in this world

Proof of angels in this world – poem

George Looney

The bombs, the old man said. Releasing them in the air

over Italian towns had seemed a revelation. Angels,

he said, must have looked down and believed the earth

was finally blooming. And it was, he said. The bombs

lifted the soil and buildings into raw air for a waltz

without music whose steps were dust and forgetfulness

of what had been. The dust he said had danced in

the air, like locusts waltzing to a graceful music

written down in the dim light of devotional candles,

had settled more than fifty years ago. In a week,

men and women who hadn’t danced in years would

place flowers at graves where grass had been cut

for the first time in more than a decade. Their flesh,

sunk into itself, would shiver the vague music

of remembering, as though the past were more

than some secret we whisper to one another. Releasing

the bombs had been a sacrament for the old man.

Bread and wine couldn’t compare. Years later,

he said, he’d gone to Italy as a tourist and been grateful

some of the cathedrals had been missed. He claimed

he would never have bombed a church. He showed you

a grainy photograph of a plane with one wing missing.

A wing and a prayer, he said and laughed. Just after

he took the picture the plane went down. He said

the pilot’s parachute blossomed like a desperate psalm.

You’d been driving and talking to the fields of wheat

outside of town. The music they hummed under your words

was almost enough. You’d done this before. You weren’t

looking for anything when you saw the yard sale sign

hung over the plaster shoulders of one of the saints

you’d seen old women light candles in front of and whisper

the names of the dead to in some churches. The old man

let you browse before coming over with his pictures

and stories of the body and blood of the bombardier.

You didn’t tell him your grandfather had lived in

one of the towns he had bombed. You recognized

the landscape, having heard it spoken of for years

in a foreign language you can’t hardly speak anymore.

Later, you found the tick trying to bury its fierce body

in your scalp. It had dropped on you while the old man

spoke of hatred as though it were a flower or a prayer.

You were in the grocery and tried to hide your disgust

as you pulled the tick out of your hair by accident,

but one woman saw it all. Both of you had smiled.

Neither of you spoke. So much of what the old man said

was in the dim body of that tick. The blood

and the urge to burrow under the skin and pray

nothing gets in the way of your desires, that

no one keeps you up nights drunk and moaning for

the dead, or a quiet sky so clear it could be called love.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Fairleigh Dickinson University

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group