By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I survived that voltage and barbed wire.
Now each day is clerestory,
each night a palimpsest of scars.
The militia pulls on its boots and waits.
On the altars, doves peck each other bloody.
A spider traverses its unseen wire
in the rarefied ether of the clerestory.
He told me it wouldn’t scar
if I rubbed salt in it. Wait
for the psalm to surface in the blood.
Close behind is the conquering army.
A trapped dove crashes through the clerestory,
a bewildered militia of scars.
I strip the insulation and wait
for ignition: for sweet oil to bloody
the engine. Too late. He’s left me
behind, a shipwreck of transept and wire—
you will know me by the scars.
By the crowned and pulsing weight
of every lost and bloodied
thing. Gilded and radiant is the enemy.
His last message traveled the wire
and vanished. God-blind is the clerestory.
All that’s left is to hide and wait
for the report of jackboots in a forest of blood.
To some, it is a symphony.
We collect feathers and bind them with wire
and twine. These wings are our clerestory.
The engine stalled, that metal body scarred
the rails, and in its wake, the blood
bearing its testimony.
The bodies dragged. The shallow graves, the fire.
Who stabbed out the windows of the clerestory?
What will annihilate these scars?
The immaculate landmines wait.
We are bound by blood to our enemy
while God feeds stars to his clerestory.
Why aren’t they detonated? The whole world waits.
Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible Blooms (Copper Canyon Press, 2018) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received fellowships from the NEA, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco.