Rappahannock Review | Caleb Agnew
1946
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Caleb Agnew

The Number of Times One Crosses Oneself

The number of times one crosses oneself
must have some bearing on salvation.
The practice of it makes me think of heaven,
white robes, a concerted sweep
of hands. If we lost our voices
or even our mouths there, at the gate one could sign
to Saint Peter where one wants to go.
What the opposite gesture is I don’t know.

I wonder about choirs of angels singing
from eternity—do they ever come and go,
making the sign over their breasts
when they alight on rooftops, cross the street,
approach the throne? I find
myself often jealous of seraphim
majestic with their extra arms and wings.

Either to be heavenly is to lose nothing,
like white light replete with colors,
or their songs must be a lesser falling-off,
a metaphor in feathers ushering airs to God
with triadic harmonies, and anybody listening
has to shiver—just like watching
eagles lift themselves with one quick beat
of bowed shoulders. Birds are closest
to heaven in this regard: they need
no hands, no crosses, just the song of flight.
Many are sure man fell, and I am just as sure
that it involved a loss of wings.

To simulate them I’ve tried everything:
drawn them as extensions of shoulder-blades,
or added them at the base of the neck
on stick figures (the simplified anatomy
is both liberating and restrictive); jumped off the back deck
with arms taped to flattened cardboard boxes,
flapping my post-consumer wings all the way down
the seven-foot drop; even run over a hill
bracing a kite’s crossed beams against my back,
holding it up for the wind and for God as a sign.

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