Friday, August 07, 2009

“Sister Brigit” by Peter Harris

This heartbreaking and beautiful poem features a nun named Brigit, and a man, the narrator, who apparently performed a ritual of purification and healing together (amongst others). This is not the Goddess Brigit, or the Saint Brigit, but a Brigit who lives in human form among us today and is, like us, wounded and alive. Blessings on Sister Brigit, and on Peter Harris, who wrote this naked, caring poem.

reprinted from Rhino Magazine.

“Sister Brigit”

by Peter Harris

One night in Ireland during that weeklong death
and resurrection retreat has left
its tattoo on me, for it happened when I was hurt
by love, sick with grief, crazy enough
to spend a week preparing to die,
and inventing a new life.
It was the night
I rubbed the naked back of an Irish nun, her skin
more a bone bag – all but dead, as she told me, all her life,
until the day she could bear it no more and confessed
her secret to her mother superior. There,

in the pitch-dark common room, just hours
before we were to die, having shed everything
sheddable, chastened, naked, gathered
to say goodbye to our bodies, she’d sat down
next to me, both of us shadows,
Eros, the faintest of our familiar gods.
She rubbed my back also, as she had the backs
of countless dying patients in the pauper
Later that night, after an hour
of incessant bellows-like deep breathing that would end
in our verisimilar deaths, at a point near oxygen whiteout
when the dungeon bars have popped loose
and the forgotten inmates are staggering out
into the blinding sun, at that point, not long
before the blasting, goatskinned music
would stop suddenly, catapulting us

into otherness, more strange,
more real and more familiar than any
dream, just as the curve of the pre-death
crescendo steepened, Sister Brigit
rose up – the rest of us, cataleptic, dirigible,
about to graduate – rose up
to finish off her earthly business, pushed
her guide, a heavy man, and then another man,
twice her size, she, who was not a hundred pounds,
shoved them across the room, through the door
into the hall, screaming, get off of me,
you bastard, never touch me again!

She, who’d been violated all through childhood,
had risen and thrown her father out of her life,
and then laid herself down in triumph and died.

The next day in the resurrection,
for that one day, beyond the Stations of the Cross,
she danced with me, this woman whom the gods
had all but abandoned, danced for the first time,
and lightly. The smile in her, the one that rises
among the oppressed after the tyrant has been lifted
bodily, shaken like a stuffed doll
and thrown away forever, the smile

shown like the upland meadows in the mountains
of County Mayo where, after great downpours,
transitory lakes, turloughs, suddenly appear,
reflecting back the sun that had shouldered
night aside the day Brigit was born then smothered
for forty years in ash. I still bear on my palm
the feel of the skin on her back.

It’s tattooed there because the room was so dark,
and she was about to live before she died,
and I was no longer sick with myself
and, thus, ready to live or die. I say
I bear the tattoo of her skin on my palm.
Lean close to me so that she might
touch your cheek with this palm.

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Image of Pilgrims at Lough Derg by Fred Hoare. A Splash of Colour.