Joan Colby




The Seven Heavenly Virtues 

 

Patience

Folds its hands like a nun. Wears the grey cape

of history. Walks along the barricades,

eyes averted.  Its music: the waves'               

persistence inserting caves in rock.

A mist curtains its abbreviations.

Pedals the unicycle, shuffles beneath the banyan

holding an alms bowl. It suffers.

Won't permit the dispensation

of the bishops. Knows how the future

can be foretold, but closes its thin

unforgiving lips. Adds and subtracts.

Illuminates the manuscripts. Licks stamps.

Sits on a metal bench in the square

where a Civil War general is honored.

Interprets your dreams but won't

let you recall them. Holds your body

as you sleep, not a lover, a biographer.

Quickens your heartbeat in an irregular

Polka. Misses the stomp of levity. Patience,

sober as a hermit, knows the industry

of your life will continue

whether you purchase the lottery ticket

or think that leaping

in front of a locomotive might

solve something.

 

Diligence

Scrubs the floors, scours

the milk cans, washes the clothes,

the windows, the children, the hands

of the homeless, the walls of the

fallen, the dreams of the vanished.

Rises at dawn to the task

of raising the sun over the edge

of the morning, banishing the stars

arranging the winds

from the west and pouring

 light over the world like a blessing

 

Diligence gathers the kindling

for the fires of the homestead,

fixes the broken and mends

the news of the day for the lax

and the wary Rings the angelus

at the appointed hour and never forgets

how work is the axle on which all things turn.

 

Humility

Crouches in ashes like a girl

in a fairy tale thinking not of a

glass slipper but how to be good.

Speaks quietly like a monk

walking the stone maze of prayer.

Chooses a hut and the coarse robe

of the unworthy, the undeserving.

Kneels in the sanctuary of the spirits

asking permission. Kneels on rock,

on earth, on all that is hard and ungiving.

Accepts nothing, needs nothing, is nothing.

Nothing but the one sparrow

that God watches.

 

Kindness

A grey goose in a nanny cape,

Kindness opens the picture book

and everything begins to rhyme

as it should in the world of

childhood. Kindness

cruises the calm seas,

white sails rigged

to catch the faintest breeze

and slice the amenable waves

like a wedding cake.

Waltzes in a ballroom of smiles

bestowing wishes on the multitude.

Kindness, like a genii, comes at night

with a magic lamp to ask you what you want,

without riddles or trickery.

Lemon drop that sweetens

the tongue. Letter of condolence.

 

Temperance

Drinks the milk of moderation

from a white mug. Sets the table

with a checked cloth and serves a dish

not too hot, not too cold.  Sweeps the rooms

with the straw broom of clarity knowing

how too much is always

more than enough.

 

Give Temperance a cause and she

will shoulder her hatchet,

head for the black saloon

where imbibers down

shots and beers to bolster wrath,

go home to beat their wives.

Temperance raises a hand

and says No. No,

You will not.

 

Charity

Enfolds an armful of roses, a copper coin

for the poor box, a basket of apples

for the hungry, silks for the naked,

milk for the newborn, kisses for the

unloved, herbs for the sick, prayer

for the dying.

 

Charity carries stones to remind the world

of want.  Tosses them into still waters

where the unlucky are banished. These

are the circles of Charity spreading forever

outward to tell us how need is endless.


Chastity

An immaculate room in the temple

where a vestal virgin knits

the shawl of purity

that warms no one.

Chastity renounces the body

as base. Wakes at night to wrestle

the dark angel of desire.

Reads the missal of celibacy.

Practices the anorexic

worship of bones. Inhabits

an upstairs chamber with one

barred window. Scans for the

Constellation of Virgo. The singular

maiden. Nun in the habit. Star

in the crown.



 

Joan Colby is the author of ten books of poems, including The Lonely Hearts Killers, The Atrocity Book, and her newest book from Future Cycle Press, Dead Horses. FutureCycle will also publish her Selected Poems in 2013.  Her poems appear in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, and Epoch. Her awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, the Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She is the editor of Illinois Racing News, and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois.










                                    

 

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