Mary Ann Samyn

Bernadette in Transit

New city. New experience. Streetcar!
First glance: mistook her for Mary.
        Who could tell? One good eye,
        chipped, just a bit of iris.
Weren’t Mary’s eyes always blue on the cover of the missalette?
Bernadette’s too, apparently.
Nearby: St. Peter on his rock.
Nearby: Christ, reclining, scary-lifesize.
Nearby: His Sacred Heart, Sacre-Couer protruding
from a banner, three nice drops of his embroidered blood. . .
—Bush Antiques, New Orleans.
(Meanwhile, on the edge of town. . . )
(Meanwhile, long ago. . . )
                                                                     [Until I decide what I want,]
                                                                     [I’ll fill this space]

                                                                     [with waiting.]


                            —But first, not thinking of her.
                            Or saying, don’t think of her.
                            Or, simply, she’s too much.
                            Working the equation.
(My mother, by bus, came to the edge of this town.)
(To a space apart.)
                                                                                   [A box of waiting.]

                            —But how might I use her? Practical now.
                            Or, more ominously, how am I like her?
                            Or, just, what is her provenance?
                            What’s my good reason?
                            Meanwhile, good bed but bad pillows.
                            Sightseeing. Refolding the map. . .
                            I complain a little and enjoy myself.
(At the edge of town she did things as cheaply as possible.)
                                                          [Meanwhile, from her left arm]
                                                          [a wire protruding where her hand]
                                                          [was attached, once.]

                           “The party you’re calling is not available.
                            Please leave a message after the tone: ”
                            —my Fairmont Hotel voice mail
                            Luxury, I could get used to.
(Best Western. Two story, outside corridor. Coffee shop, preferably.)
(Maybe she arrived late and kept it together)
(long enough to catch a cab.)
                                                                                                                                                                 [Bernadette = $95, s&h = $80]

                            —But what sound does a saint make? Original
                            energy, sure, her throat, God’s ——, no doubt.
                            But what sound does a saint in a box make?
                            Somewhere, the UPS man listens as I will soon:
                            her three red streaks (left breast. spray paint? not
                            quite, too careful.), go high-pitched and electrical.

(More and more, she had experiences alone.)
(Of course, I’ve told her nothing)
(about Bernadette.)
                                                      [Invtry. #16242: large plaster statue.]
                                                      [Pretty sure she’s in the box now.]

                            Then reading about Bernadette:
                            Nothing, nothing. Then 18 visions
                            of “call me the Immaculate Conception,”
                            and the necessary testimony.
                            This was Lourdes.
                           Then, the then of it got to be too much,
                           and she went back to cholera, so common:
                           “acute, often fatal . . . characterized by . . .
                           blah blah blah . . . and collapse.”
                           Later, sainthood and her incorruptible body:
                           three times exhumed: with a sweet odor and
                           “completely victorious over the laws of nature.”
                          The statue, however, is in its own collapse:
                          paint chips along the folds of her dress and veil.
                          What she’s been through—
(One now is my mother remembering she was fine alone.)
(One now, a little later, is my reaction. . . )
(Meanwhile is just another way of saying, life goes on.)
                                                               [So where is she? Has she been]
                                                                                       [jostled much?]

More of the back home. Normal life.
The receipt arrives. Bernadette is imminent.
The garden isn’t ready: snow: some clean,
some darkening . . . as around her eyes,
her photo readily available:
          so this is what a saint looks like. . .
(In this space at least, compassion.)
(What she’s been through.)
                                                               [In this one, what I don’t know.]

                            O God, protector of the humble,
                            grant that I may —
                                         . . . and be deserving of —
(But if it were possible)
(could she be among)
(the cured?)
                                                                                          [O patroness]
                                                                                          [of the sick—]

                            Unsure of how to proceed.
                            Her photo, one in particular,                                                                        
                            the white veil:
                                                               stays with me.
(Not that my mother is a saint.)
(Only that she has suffered.)
                                                                  [January 8, 2002: Bernadette]

                            The instructions say: inspect this.
                            The crown of her head (no crown
                            there, though; just cold) peeks out
                            from among the packing peanuts.
                           She is safe.
(My mother, however, — )
                                                                                            [As for me,]
                                                                                          [this is a box]
                                                                                            [of waiting.]