Excerpt from The Feast of St. Vitus by John Poch

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The following poem appears in our Spring/Summer 2020 which we’ve decided to share not just with our paying subscribers but with our full community free of charge during these astonishing times. If anyone wishes to make a donation, it would be appreciated.

O patron saint of lightning strikes, animal attacks,
and over-sleeping, I do my little dance for you
in Forio. For me, too, for I like late-night fireworks
out by the water in a thunderstorm and sometimes
don’t think much of morning. The Napolitano pastries
will still be crackly at noon. The blue sky will wait
for me, or the white sky will come. The secret
of my skillset on the dance floor of the world
is that I just don’t care, wave my hands in the air,
with a certain jerk somewhere between comedian
and happy epileptic. Yet you were utterly serious
in your cauldron of pitch and oil, only twelve
and steadfast in your faith. When I was twelve,
I asked my mother what a virgin was, because
my friends assured me Jackie Wheeler was.
And there would be a dance, and she liked me.
Oh the bizarre charm of the ‘70s, era of magazines,
when someone like Burt Reynolds could bare all,
and I was innocent, embarrassing my baffled self
at every turn and even learned to break dance.
Now, on the seawall, I can make my friends laugh,
when I perform the pop and lock, and grunt
like Michael Jackson, squeal, as if burned by oil.
Life is silly, superstitious, and still, the martyrs
somewhere are martyred. Just last week in Rome,
I went from chapel to chapel in a basilica
on an island in the middle of the Tiber River,
selfishly looking for a painter I might recognize
and swoon over. Instead I witnessed on each altar
relics of the new martyrs of our new, dumb century,
common women, men, children questioned, forced,
burned, bullet-riddled, hanged and swinging
in the trees by breezes, bodies crying Jesus,
thrown from parapets, throats cut mercifully,
each body dancing in its own way, almost puppetry,
though it was their own will that brought them
to this death in firm belief of a savior past and present
yet not fully by their own volition at the very end,
but by your will O God who must justify them.

Click here to read the rest of our Spring/Summer 2020 issue for free.

John PochJOHN POCH’S sixth book, Between Two Rivers, was published in 2019. He has published poems in Paris Review, Poetry, Image, and other journals. He teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University.

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