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.