When I was eighteen I gave up God
but kept what the nuns had really taught me
that life revolved around the need to believe
and under that was a subheading labeled "MEN."
Mother St. Frederick who came from her cell on Sundays,
where Mary was queen bee in a drone of priests,
never made it clear what the connection was.
My mother, who was of an expedient turn,
put the subheading first,
leading her life suspended in a solution of men --
her father sweet as the ice cream he sold
in his bankrupt small town store,
the husband who refused to be a success
always leaving her hungry.
She went to bed each night with a mystery,
a half-gallon of vanilla-fudge, a tablespoon,
and died waiting for the doctor
to pummel her out of a coronary.
She knew who was in charge.
My aunt had three men in ninety-nine years --
father, son and holy ghost.
Though she knows women are powerless
she also knows they are purer
with no desires but to give.
Within those restrictions she wove a life
strewn with small acts varied
as wild flowers in a Florentine nativity.
She poured coffee for neighbors in the home
and bartered her goodness to a mad cousin in exchange
for her raw crayonings of the Sacred Heart.
Only daughter of these two, plus childless nuns,
having renounced the immortal at eighteen,
divorced the subheading at thirty,
I'm caught in the black habits of those bees.
My days fill with the hum of sugar-gruel hymns
and mother's pop yearnings --
"Oh Lord I am not worthy that you light up my life."