Al Maginnes As Much Salvation as One Can Believe

For George Looney

I should start this poem with a priest

pouring a shot of whiskey, but that would

make it one of your poems, not mine.

But now I’ve already begun, and I know

you could make be believe an angel

sits in a chair opposite the priest.

So I will give you the priest and add fire

rolling in the hills over town, smoke

black as a cassock filling the sky.

Black at noon, blacker still at midnight,

thin seam of fire visible and moving

above them. There are no angels

and, for now, no fires where I live.

I will tell you it has rained enough today

to drown any angels or any good intentions.

It’s hard to consider salvation if

your first thoughts are safety or food,

or if you are shaking for the shelter

of a drink of wine or whiskey.

Just as I imagined the priest.

The way we both imagine lives

and try to fit them into crude boats

of song, somewhere they can float

safe from fire, the water deep

and slow as the motion of wings.

The priest is tired of promising heaven

with no strings attached. The angel wants

to fall into flesh and live in the world

he once scorned, to search for

a woman he danced with

on his last mortal night, when

he was human and owned a future.

Outside the dance hall, he wrote her number

and bent to hug her. When he recalls

the soft possibility of their bodies,

the lemon and honey smell of her,

the motions of clouds, of prayers

the priest has lost, of fire all

vanished into the flood of memory

and that rises with it, all

the salvation we can believe.

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