Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry

Michelle Peñaloza


The creak of pews makes my knees ache,
my palms and fingertips kiss.
Phosphorus, censers, old mahogany,
old penitents close to death and God,
boxed wine, and candle wax work upon me
like the itches of an old collared jumper.
The poetry of worship seeps from memory to body.
I confess to the air.
Forgive me, Air, I cannot believe.
It has been three years since my last quiet.
I hold a rosary, count its beads
like the redolent string of rose petals
my Lola held close when she died.
After prayer, the attar of her rosary melded
with the garlic bouquet of her hands, bulbous
scents cradling, caressing my face.
I roll each pressed round between
my forefinger and thumb, keep count:
my guilt, lack of conviction, rage—
in this confession, my hands tell me
I am not free. I cup my tangled strand,
pass it between my hands. The attar
now lives in the leaf creases of my palms.
The quiet whispers, scent is memory's companion.

Issue 2 | Winter 2011

I inhale calla lilies, the yeast of Eucharist, incense,
my mother's undulating voice as she cried
the prayers of the Rosary at my Lola's funeral.
My mother looked like artwork then,
something of Bernini's—her ecstasy
carved into relief by her pain.
I remember cathedral light washing her face.
I envied the faith she found, her ravished heart.
Once, an old man spoke to me of faith
in dishes. How he held, washed, and dried
each dish as though it were a child in his sink—
the dishes themselves, and the fact that I am here
washing them, are miracles. I count the day's miracles
found in the uneven breath and heady sleep of my lover;
the sweet butter on wheat toast, the abundance of coffee,
the predictability of doors, opening and closing.
Found in the star held within an apple, in yellow
gingkoes and red maples—dying, only to dance.
Found in the sound of eight separate rivers
converged in one spot, working in one measure.
Found in rosaries and rose petals and garlic;
in vinegar and incense and wine.

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