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Frank Paino

Apocrypha: The Ram Considers Abraham

 

And what if my god

demanded of me blood

of my own kin,

a ewe, still unsteady

on spindled legs,

for an offering?

What if I led her

to pasture,

to the old wolf

whose hackled shadow

hunkered

amidst the long grass?

What if I turned

only when the screaming

wind became the tongue

of an angel calling back

the Lord’s command

like a man who swallows

fire and lives to tell?

What if, in praise

of that late mercy,

I guided the wolf to the tent

where your firstborn slept

unattended, tangled

in dreams sweet as

the psalm buried

in his mother’s breast?

 

 

My Mother’s Corpse

 

She didn’t need the blanket,

couldn’t feel the cold

 

of the refrigerated room

to which she’d been consigned

 

until I could make it

for one final argument

 

with love’s

misguided ministries;

 

though it wasn’t sorrow

that came over me

 

as I stroked her face,

the thin lips that had

 

both blessed and cursed

me; only wonder

 

at such stillness,

the chill rising

 

as if from an autumn

lake I could not swim,

 

and the heaviness

when I lifted her

 

at the shoulders

to put her scapular

 

into its proper place—

one square of stitched

 

brown wool above her

heart, the other

 

between the blade

of each smooth shoulder.

 

Before I eased her down

against the stainless

 

gurney, I kissed the flesh

at the back of her neck

 

 

where blood had gathered

like a bewildered

 

tribe before a sea

that had not yet parted.

 

 

John, the Beloved Disciple

 

Lord, let me rest my head

above the prison

of your temporal heart,

its blood psalm swift

as winnowed flames

that clear a field

for someday’s harvest.

Let my own heart sing

in faultless synchrony

and so be hidden

in the selfsame song.

Let me take

the Magdalene’s place

at your feet,

caress the bones

that will be shattered

like tablets of stone.

Let me place my hands

upon these wrists

that will lift you

to each staggered breath

in the failing

pre-Sabbath light.

Master, let me

press my mouth

to the tender space

between your ribs

which will be opened

like a sepulchre

that cradles nothing

but a hollowed

winding sheet,

as if the man

once laid there

walked out

into the garden,

unclothed

and unashamed.

 

 

Lucifer, Falling

 

To be suffered

 

spirit into matter

 

to be unloosed

from perfection’s tedium

into the wind’s shrill

hammers

 

into gravity’s harsh tug

toward

 

to be made flesh

 

suddenly struck

match-bright

with pain

and with desire

 

the gift

of your sweet

diminishment

 

 

Frank Paino earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His fourth book, Dark Octaves, won the Longleaf Press Book Prize and is forthcoming (Winter 2024). His chapbook, Pietà, won the Jacar Press Chapbook Prize and was published in 2023. Frank has received a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Catamaran, North American Review, World Literature Today, Briar Cliff Review, Lake Effect, and a number of anthologies. His website is https://www.frankpaino.net.

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