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Our Lady of Fatima figurine

One Poem by Jonathan Fink

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The Succession of Mothers

“Take this,” a man resembling,
            from a distance, my long-dead grandfather,
                        bellowed on the corner of Boylston

and Tremont, his breath holding
            on the winter air like exhaust
                        from the smokestacks and chimneys

I observed each day, turn of a new century,
            through the graffitied windows
                        of an Orange Line subway car

that trembled and shook
            from Sullivan Square to my Chinatown stop,
                        the man’s middle finger sprung

like a switchblade at protestors
            on the opposite curb as he stammered,
                        “and send it to ya motha!”

his other hand holding fast
            to the ball end of a weathered cane,
                        the city in turmoil, though I do not recall

now with which sides the individuals
            aligned, only that some of the protestors
                        glared at the man and others laughed,

most likely at his impotent rage
            or the thought, literal, of his photograph
                        arriving in their mothers’ mail,

his voice recorded on a cassette tape
            turned back and forth in the gray light
                        of Medford or Charlestown, the first package

these mothers had received in months
            or even years from children long-grown
                        and lost to the world, or so the mothers

had thought, one mother in this succession
            of mothers receiving, in my imagination,
                        the man’s actual finger, not severed

or taken by force, but surrendered
            to the crowd through which he passed, 
                        the finger slipped from the man’s hand

like the magic trick all fathers employ,
            the finger disappearing in the moment
                        and not returned, destined or cursed

to travel from home to home,
            like the duffle bag, all fuchsia and turquoise,
                        that my wife and her family received

for one week each year when she was a child,
            the bag containing a statute of Our Lady of Fatima,
                        arriving, or so I choose to believe, on their porch

in a flurry of wind and with a sound like a knock
            at the door, though they couldn’t be sure,
                        and what else could they do but take her in,

my wife and her sisters attending, placing
            the statue on their cleared foyer table,
                        unpacking and positioning her crown, her hands

extended in welcome, revealing her pierced
            and thorn-encircled heart, its sacred form
                        capped with fire and emanating brushstrokes

of light, like the image of the sun spinning
            in the sky on the VHS tape that came in the bag,
                        the image my wife says she remembers most,

as well as the story her school’s nuns told
            of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima appearing
                        to Pope John Paul II as he lay bleeding

in St. Peter’s Square, having been shot four times
            by an attempted assassin, the Pope insisting
                        afterwards that the Blessed Mother redirected

the bullets away from his heart, a belief
            he held so strongly that, when recovered,
                        he sought out her shrine and placed

one of the four bullets in her statue’s crown,
            the bullet the size of a fingertip
                        and clean though having passed

through the meat of a man, a gift
            I know from which I would recoil,
                        though what is a statute if not composed,

no different from those same mothers
            who, each evening after Mass, still light
                        a candle in their shades-drawn homes

and say the Rosary for a wayward child,
            their hands traversing from bead to bead,
                        reciting the prayers their own mothers prayed.

 

 

 

Jonathan FinkJonathan Fink is professor and director of creative writing at University of West Florida. He is currently completing a new collection of poems, which includes “The Succession of Mothers” published here. More information about his writing and publications is available at jonathanfink.com.

Header photo by Immaculate, courtesy Shutterstock.


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