You’re in the church back home,
Dad, waxing pews, prostrate. Here, I sit low
to the ground in a gray cubicle, answering
phones, calling debtors. The lever is broken.
The chair won’t rise up.
You take lunch break in the sacristy:
your children baptized under the tint
of its stained-glass. You don’t eat,
but want to drink the holy water, be blessed
as the indignant babies. Every year,
you consecrate the Christmas tree
with a prayer from the Advent book
and a spritz from a plastic bottle of holy water.
Candles burn around the Advent wreath, purple
for Hope, Peace, and Joy; pink
for Love. On Christmas morning you replace
nubs with tall white bayberries, set the wreath
in the sink, so the candles won’t scorch
the dinner table in their altruistic melt. You save
your ham and cheese for the ride home.
My boss hangs a sign by the coffee pot:
All Debts Recalled Before Christmas.
Another month of overtime, my voice
shellacked with sweetness, praying
they won’t answer the sharp ring.
Dinner is the best time
to serve the reminder
of financial responsibility.
Sometimes I dial the number wrong,
say the name wrong. I hang up
before they can. Or a child answers
and I can feel her grip
the receiver as if I held her body
in my outstretched palm. Sometimes
I am close to dialing your number.
You clean the altar
like you washed me
when I was your child: scrub the marble
till the shine bleeds. Somewhere inside
hides the relic of a saint.