Magazine article World Literature Today

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Magazine article World Literature Today

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Article excerpt

(Church of the Sacred Heart of Suffrage - Rome, Italy)

Granted brief reprieve from expiation,

what form might these souls have put on to move,

once again, among the living? I say, "Sweltering

exhalations of wind out of season." You answer,

"Shadows woven from cinder and ash."

It's no matter to the vanishing host of faithful

who wander these crumbling lanes like

a lost tribe in search of something to sustain them,

to hold up to tourists and lovers as fiery proof,

like the singed relics in this small museum

tucked behind the gilded altar of the Sacred Heart,

a room no larger than a prison cell

where fifteen mismatched frames depend

at fevered angles, each smoky pane holding fast

the scorched testament of the almost-saved

who came back to this world speaking a language of fire.

Behold, a husband's nightcap scorched by

the slim gold ring of his burning bride;

a young nun's pale cape gone black at the hem

clutched by her late confessor's hand;

a well-worn psalter pressed tight to a flaming breast -

each earthly artifact a caveat, or so we're told,

from heaven's igneous stepping-stone. …

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