I think every poetry exercise book suggests an abecedarian poem. They’re fun to write, especially when they lead to discoveries like that not only was there a Pope Xystus, there were three.
I lived in the French Quarter for a few months, in an apartment over the botanica where I worked. I loved it there, but crime was an issue. The incident in this poem wasn’t the only one I witnessed; the majority were attempts to mug tourists.
The statues in the photo are the ones that stood on my altar while I was in New Orleans; Raphael did more or less point at my balcony.
The A to Z of Heresy
Androgynous archangels, four of them,
Beckon me toward the balcony with urgent sculptured gestures.
Close to the empty shop three doors
Down the indifferently lit street, a man is
Ending a fight I missed the beginning of. Except it’s not a
Fight — it’s a mugging. Just like a tango, a fight takes two. I
Grab my phone and lean over the railing, shout,
“Hey, asshole, I see you! I’m calling 911!”
I don’t think at first about how he can see where I live,
Just about the man he’s hitting, about
Killings and statistics and one less of each tonight.
Later, I’ll hope where my voice came from was vague,
Mysterious to him in the shock of being seen,
Not traceable the way the call is that finally
Opens the floodgates, winds the sirens, brings the police to
Pursue the puncher, pour the punchee into an ambulance, ask
Questions about what I saw before the man
Ran away. They wave away my questions: Will he come back,
Stay in the shadows until you’ve all gone, count balconies?
Three feldspar saints and the disenfranchised one —
Uriel, repudiated by a church unsettled by his power —
Votive offerings at all their flawless feet, are my watch and
Ward when the cops are gone, mugger still uncaught.
Xystus I wouldn’t approve — nor would II, or III — though
You’d think a martyr wouldn’t mind so much my placing four
Zircons at the feet of the defrocked Light of God.
(photo: catalog listing)