Please, share my little table here
at this pleasant window. I’ll not — oops,
don’t spill, don’t drop your book.
There. Comfortable? Crowded, no? And hot.
Father Kyriakos, your humble servant,
and as I said, I’ll not disturb you.
Oh, you manage Greek? Kyriakos
is indeed a Lord’s man, purveyor
beneath St. Tatiana’s brick towers
of Mother Church’s Holy Sacraments.
Her bright facade rises proudly in the sunshine,
only a quick stroll away. She was
enchantingly in view of our window here
until they raised that gray and glowering bank
to hide her face. Your drink, it’s satisfactory?
Ah, Amaretto, you say? Bitter-sounding,
sweet Amaretto, gift of the grateful widowed
Saronno innkeeper, grateful and graceful,
I surmise: she modelled for Luini’s
painted Queen of Heaven. Mine’s ouzo.
Greek drink and Greek name for a man
Roman in spirit as Gregorius Magnus. But,
that thick book, there, squeezed
under your arm, marks a reader, a lover
of meditative quiet. Forgive a lonely
Lord’s man. You came to read in peace,
to share your private woman’s intellection
with your sweet Amaretto.
Unless you, or your not-quite-checked
eyebrow, require more trifles touching
Luini’s lover? I’ve told you all: that sweet
tincture now touching your lips, was,
they say, her divine invention. A blessed
gift, and additional to patient days
wearing for his brush the garb and smile
of the Holy Ghost’s spouse, not to mention
patient Saronno nights patiently… But no.
From my archaic features, from these musty
Romish things I wear, you discern
I’d eschew talk of Eve’s fallen daughters:
indeed, dear God, with Eve’s daughters.
How scrupulously, shielding our somber vows,
we watch our loosened tongues and bowels, yet ever,
as Adam, disappoint. Rather tell me
(then I’ll let you read) what’s that book
you’ve half-hid under your slim elbow?
(How decorously you raise your arm to show me,
Amaretto riding level in your glass.)
Dostoyevski? Crime and Punishment?
Sanctity and madness so close-set
in one man’s soul. And in mad
Dostoyevski’s own mad Russian?
Hah! You’re a scholar! Blessed state,
resting ardent as a nun — you feel it? —
in Tatiana martyr’s celestial, sainted bosom.
But Raskolnikov? I’d thought him
more my line than yours, at least more
needful of God’s Sacramental healing
than of your slender — pardon, than
of Sonia’s slender arms. But now I must
let you r…
You’d return to sweet martyr Tatiana?
Of course, you, an eager scholar, demand
scholarly minutiae of the patroness of scholars.
Tatiana, Roman girl of Christian family,
defying Apollo under Alexander Severus,
plighted her virginity to Christ,
and suffered days of merciless Roman suplicio.
Stripped, beaten with rods, torn by iron
claws, sliced with razors, thrown to hungry
lions, cast in fire, eyes and breasts
torn out and off, she was nightly healed
of holy angels, her cruel wounds emitting
sweet fragrance. At her signum crucis
pagan temples, altars, idols collapsed,
crumbled to the ground. When God’s mercy
permitted, she died, beheaded, and angels flew
her sealed spirit to every virgin nun’s
Holy Spouse. Now, safe in His
Father’s House, more honored by Greeks
and Russians than in the Roman loci of her
virgin life and hallowed martyrdom,
she daily intercedes for you — if
you be a scholar, which you’ve not denied —
being our saintly patron and protectress.
But this is uncomfortable stuff to go
with comforting Amaretto. Shall I fill your glass?
There. Now you’ll read your Dostoyevski.
Pictures? Scenes, you mean, of Tatiana’s bloody
torment? We’ve one. One venerable, ancient,
honest icon, not for casual viewing.
Should you, per chance or providence, enter
her house a quick stroll away from where
we sip our Amaretto and Greek ouzo, there,
where the sun shines behind the bank, seek me there;
permit me to explain, perhaps expound,
if it please you — sine pecunia, for the honor
is mine — the hidden intensions of Tatiana’s hidden,
blazing icon. Hidden for indecorousness?
You, Dostoyevski’s pupil, know
more indecency than I. True, marks
of naked sanctity incite brutish public
contempt, but under devout, knowing, scholar’s
eyes, your eyes, Tatiana’s wounds
still emit fragrance sweeter than Amaretto,
demure as bleeding new-shorn lambs, miraculous
as the wounds of God’s Own Dying Lamb
qui tollis peccata mundi.
You, a scholar, demand miracles? Last
Holy Friday at confessional, a youth, handsome
as you, was found, under licit priestly
questioning, incapable of penitence for fleshly sins:
fetid sins, unsayable even to a scholar.
But, once stripped under Tatiana’s
bleeding icon… He demanded it, with tears,
he begged as a babe the liberating gift of penance
(penance, you understand, in that reasoned, effectual,
archaic mode). And here’s your miracle: I sent
that youth, after a stressful hour, back
to the street, filled with the supernal Peace of God.
You’re baffled? Befuddled? I’ll say it frankly: he desired
corporal penance for corporal sin. Yes,
I, Kyriakos, Lord’s man,
shepherd and father — he begged, I say — assigned
by calling to mete those needed conditions of absolution,
indecent only to lost and hell-bound blasphemers,
to a penitent lamb bowed naked beneath
Tatiana’s implacable judgment and loving intercession.
But now you’re stressed, my child. Let me wipe
your brow and bring another. Brandy? Double?
Please, on my tab. Confession? Daily at six.
Or by appointment, if preferred.
There, my child. Drink all of it. We’ve time.
Here, I’ll dry your eyes. Under her icon?
As you wish. For finer discretion, let me
not escort you there. Meet me under
Tatiana’s towers, in holy sequestration,
only a quick stroll away, where the sun
still shines behind the bank.
Miamisburg, Ohio, 2010