2 January 2007 | Vol. 6, No. 4


The life of stigmatics is but a long series of sorrows
which arise from the Divine malady of the stigmata
and end only in death.
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

No one else was there to see the light show,

homunculus of the body of Christ,

its six wings like an overcoat flashing

the five wounds, tiny rays

diagrammatically connecting God's

hands, feet, and side to his, until his palms,

feet, side sprouted nail marks, spear gash,

bled and throbbed. Forty days and nights

without food, on the mountain—

because God favors the upper air,

the solitary pilgrim. The other brothers

were left to fall asleep or worship

golden calves, whatever frailty might erupt

without him. If the sufferings

were absent, the wounds would be but

an empty symbol… conducing

to pride. His reward is to share

the experience of crucifixion. He descends

cupping blood in his hands.

Lord, many are the ways of seeking

holiness. Men right now in Philippine

villages, backs wet with lashings,

spraying blood, get themselves nailed

to crosses on Good Friday every year.

Absolutely unmixed attention,

said Simone Weil, who knew as well

as anyone, is prayer. Women live

for years stylitic in old-growth

redwoods, and a virgin

in Minneapolis is starving herself

for beauty's sake. Curious are the ways

holiness is achieved (that freezing

and melting point, that instant

when your perfect attention changes

and unchanges you or the world) and unforeseen

the consequences. Take you, for example,

the skinny boy I used to know, in love

with fire—spark between one wire and another,

matches littering your basement floor.

Not manly, your father thought and sent you off

to military school. But this is absolute

devotion we're considering. The beloved

who makes night into day. Even in the form

of a cola bottle stuffed with oily rags, its wick

too short. Even when another cadet, your

opposing angel, throws himself on the bottle

to keep you from your fire. Even so, the flame

blazes around you, you reach your desideratum.

What the saint carries with him then is the blessing

of the wound. St. Francis in torture. Weil, dying,

could not take food while Europe starved; ruled suicide,

while balance of mind disturbed.        Sufferings.

You survive, lame and scarred, to witness to the God

your scorched eyes will never see again.

About the author:

Susan Settlemyre Williams's poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the Mississippi Review, Shenandoah, Sycamore Review, Diner, and Poetry Southeast, among other journals, and in the anthology Best New Poets 2006. Her chapbook Possession is due out this spring from Finishing Line Press. She is book review editor and associate literary editor of the online journal Blackbird.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 6, No. 4, where "Stigmata" ran on January 2, 2007. List other work with these same labels: poetry, editors' select.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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