To render. Be rendered. Awestruck. Awesome.
A magazine of poetry and related arts straight from L.A.




Dan Masterson

Agnus Dei

Communion wafer


(based on Francisco de Zurbaran's painting)                                                                            
"The Penitential Books provide a vivid glimpse into the darker side of Christian  life at the time. Several references refer  to the sexual crimes committed by clerics against young boys and girls. The Penitentials were in use from the 6th century through the 12th century." -

She's seen that look before, coming
From older men: professors, clerks,
The leathery faces of cops pulling her
Over at night on the outskirts of town,
But never here, in church, coming
From the visiting priest laying
The host on her tongue, intoning

The Body of Christ.  She closes her eyes
& lowers her head, but he remains,
Allowing his thumb to slide inside
Her upper lip.  She pulls back & opens
Her eyes to find him gone.  She returns
To her pew & tries to pray him away,
But he is there on the inside of her
Closed lids, a bulbous man, what is
Known as a floater, a priest without
Parish, sent to fill in for regulars
On vacation.  Her teeth stick to the flesh
Where his thumb had been.  She opens
Her eyes & licks her lips, trying to wash
Him away, but he is there, behind the altar,

Facing the congregation, hands raised
In prayer, his eyes finding hers as she
Flicks them away to the safety
Of the wooden crucifix dangling far
Overhead.  She will say nothing
At home.  They will only accuse her
Of sacrilege, insist that her year away

At college turned her against all that
Is good; & she will play tonight
In the alum game, as she promised
Her friends she would, & hopes he'll
Be gone, but he'll be there waiting,
Watching her every move, his throat
Drying out, his palms growing wet,

The thumb that found her throbbing
As though he'd slammed it in
The gym locker she will choose
To use, he touching them all this
Afternoon, knowing one will be hers
When she comes after supper to take
A uniform hanging fresh from the wash

Beside the shower stalls.  He knows
Which one it will be; he is sure, & he
Moves the others away from it, talking
To it, smiling, smoothing the pleats,
Turning it inside out & then back.
When the game is finished, he will ask
Her to stay with some others to tidy up,

& he will send her with the rectory
Key on an errand moments before he
Dismisses the others with smiles
& blessings.  He will find her alone
In the study, frantic to find the book
He said was on the side of the desk
Next to the phone.  She will hear his

Voice broken by the locking
Of the door, & she will look up
To see the sickening smile she saw
At Mass, & she will beg him to let
Her go home, that she will say nothing.
He will smile again and explain that
The rectory is empty, that's she's wasting

Time.  He will ask if she knows The Lives
Of the Saints,
Saint Rosalie who entered
A cave in her teens & dwelt there
For the rest of her life.  Is that you? he
will ask.  I think not, he will say.
& Aquinas, whose parents sent
A prostitute to his room in hopes

Of dissuading him from
The priesthood? You are my night
he will tell her, sent as reward
For faithful service. God is good,
Will say, and understanding, making
The sign of the cross on her cheek.  She
makes a run for it, as he grabs a fistful

Of hair & removes a penknife from
His cassock, rubbing it unopened back
& forth across her blouse.  Saint Agatha?
Do you know what happened to hers?  I
Will cut them if you don't behave; I will,

He will say in the voice that says The
Body Of Christ.
 & then it will begin.  She

Will say nothing, but will keep her eyes
Closed no matter what he does.  She
Will make it through, & she will go
Home if he allows her, & she will
Somehow say goodnight to her family
& and go to her room where she will
Kneel at her bedside to say prayers

She learned as a child from nuns who
Chose to live lives hidden away together
Far from the reaches of men.

from Congeries


Dan Masterson's fourth collection, his New and Selected, All Things, Seen and Unseen, was released by The University of Arkansas Press in 1997. In 2006, Syracuse University assumed stewardship of "The Dan Masterson Papers" for its Special Collections Research Center. In 2009, he was named the first Poet Laureate of Rockland County, New York, for a two-year term. He has since been reappointed for an additional term. His work has appeared in an eclectic array of publications, including: Poetry, Hotel Amerika, Esquire, The New Yorker, Paris Review, London Magazine, New York Quarterly, as well as The Ontario, Sewanee, Paris, Southern, Hudson, Yale, Gettysburg, Massachusetts, New Orleans, and Georgia Reviews. He was elected to membership in Pen International in 1986, and is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, the Bullis Poetry Award, a Borestone Prize, and The CCLM Fels Award. He is the founding editor of the online Enskyment Poetry Anthology.

Obsession  Top

Speechless Spring 2011
Copyright 2011 Published by
Tebot Bach