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Mike Carson

Posted by admin on December 26, 2011

Mke Carson's most recent book is The Keeper’s Voice (LSU Press, 2010). He has published poems in Commonweal, The Formalist, The New Virginia Review, The Southern Review, and The Beloit Poetry Journal, among many others.


Serving Mass in Early Winter

Who maketh his angels spirits;

his ministers a flaming fire

— Psalm 104

December, six a.m., the sidewalks buried,

Out of the dark the black biretta and cape

Of Father Dominic leans across the drifts.

“The padlock on the parking-lot gate has frozen,

You make a paper fire and thaw it out.”


His army zippo solid as a gun

In my bare hand, I rip out, wad the pages — 

The Indiana Cathloic, Maryknoll,

Franciscan Way — light them, then feed in more.

The sudden yellow flames slash up, snap at

The wind that flails them, stars iced into the black,

The tears that freeze my lashes as I blink.


Beyond the pale lightfall of the church

I shiver, spread on pages that curl at once,

Gold snarls that eat the words, float off. How far

The back-row cop who kneels in uniform,

The hooded nuns, the whitehaired women praying,

Head-scarved, alone among the empty rows,

The Introibo ad altare Dei,

“I will go unto the altar of my God,”

Father mumbles, with no one to respond

Ad Deum qui laetificat, juventutem meam,

“To God who gives joy to my youth.”


The lock and gate-bar blacken. The sisters

At Communion forget I’m here. The fire leaps 

To twist out of itself. A distant heaven

Crowds close around the flame-light, fierce heat

I urge still higher — St. Joseph Messenger,

The Way, The Sacred Heart — thin newsprint wings

That open blazing, flap free above the gate.


Whole sheets of fire cut loose across the snow,

Catch empty bike racks, float through frozen chains

Of playground swings, then vanish on a hope,

Brief vision, into the darkened playing field.

One beats the fence, snuffs out. I’m down to scraps,

The fire-tongues shrink back. The prayers inside

Run down, the black print sinks in trembling ashflakes.


I warm the key above the dwindling fire,

It slides into the lock and clicks, the steel

Hinges screech open onto the untracked lot.

A few last shreds of light spawn small gray moths

That crumble, smudge the snow.

The prayer of fire gone, the Eucharist over,

Where shall I go? The heat inside the church

Is stale. The ice-glint stars fade into dawn.

The Messengers and Ways all gone in smoke.

Ite, Missa est. Go, the Mass is done.