The Prioress of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

by Sara Cleto

Our Lady: The Prioress of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1,
A shadow, inverted, heralds her passing,
A wimple of grave dust crowns her.

Her Communion: a night-sweet flask,
Half empty, of bourbon,
An offering left by a supplicant with
More superstition, or sense, than most.

Her toilette: a lone spigot, where she
Splashes her face with water,
Warm from dreaming bones.

Her vanity: a shattered mirror
Wedged in the frame of a mausoleum,
Braced by spectral feet —
There, she rouges her skin with lipstick butts,
A residual kiss blooming on her cheek.

Her habit: a gown of silk roses,
Dampened and dyed through precipitous rain,
The inks of August clouds.

Her rosary: carnival beads, once bright, now silvered
Through the subtle alchemy of heat, sweat,
The friction of fingers, flesh and phantom.

Her prayer: scattered Xs, on stone and underfoot,
A vexation to those unquiet spirits who pulled
Her hair as she slept or an enticement to the sleepers
Who never wake, refusing her convocation —
The stately scratch of her knife on their graves is decorous,
A light rap on a neighbor’s door, the chime of a bell. 

Her penitence: flame, ignited at the tapered point
Of a makeshift cigarette — tobacco stolen from stony fissures,
Bound in candy wrappers that burn her fingers as she inhales.

Her song: a lullaby to the Société Française de Bienfaisance,
And the children stretch and sigh inside the stones,
Fingers grasping at the tattered ribbon of her voice. 

Do not look for her.

She is already looking at you, bourbon and beads in her fist.

Sara Cleto is a PhD student at the Ohio State University where she studies folklore, literature, and the places where they intersect. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Cabinet des Fees: Scheherazade's Bequest, Ideomancer, Niteblade, the anthology A is for Apocalypse, and others. Her poem "The Second Law of Thermodynamics," co-written with Brittany Warman, and her flash fiction story "Liriope's Daughter" have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her favorite fruits are Georgia peaches, baked in the oven with no sugar at all.

Previous | Back to Table of Contents | Next