Three Poems ~ Pete Duval

The Middle Distance, 2015

Trick or miracle—at that moment,
the desire roughly the same—it
reveals itself photographically
after taking shape in dreams, like one
in which, if you can hold your breath long
enough to feel your spine lengthen, this
happens: you rise, unsure at first, then
hover for a moment, then you drift
with the prevailing winds until you
begin to master—if that’s the right word—
the embodied equivalent of
yaw and pitch and roll. Exhibit A:
me, here, on West Island under low
skies—my favorite World War II U-boat
watch tower in the middle distance—
out of time, it would seem, crammed with in-
betweenness, with neither-here-nor-there-
ness, rising and in—Robson’s word—free-
fall, both—a dangerous time, he’d said,
and exhilarating and cruelly
necessary. So ready, even
the body knows it—like bring-out-your-
dead ready, like you’d-think-it’s-a-sad-
thing ready, but more like slow-motion
drone footage over smoking silent
battlefields. Sad, yes, but redolent
of something like awe, the stifling grief
of too little oxygen in small
windowless summer rooms at midday.

Our Lady of Cactus Spines

Our Lady of Cactus Spines,
mother of thorns, nettles, burrs,
slaps, and all that stings; of welts;

of poison oaks and ivies
and their resultant rashes;
of all irritants of the skin,

of the tongue or of the eye,
natural, inorganic,
imagined; of sharp words; of

vivid, welling memories;
and of hallucinations
that seem to rise, with shame, to

pierce the numbing spell of
endless city walks along
otherwise forgettable

streets, years or decades on. Look
down, gentle one, O, mother
of pain’s potential most pure,

of what is or is not to
come. Mediatrix most meek
and mild, pray for—puncture—us.

St. Rita’s Shrine, Philadelphia

Only the doors down into the shrine—
to a desiccated portion of
the saint’s flesh (itself sequestered)—are

unlocked. Above, the drama of the
cathedral; below, the chronically
touch-starved find reprieve. She’s the patron

saint of the impossible, or one
of them. But it’s flesh you can’t touch. What
you can touch: a bronze bas-relief Christ,

pierced hands crossed delicately at the
wrists and caressed to luster by the
grimy oil of human finger tips

anonymous and unnumbered, made
holy, in time, by unstigmatized
palms, the wounds’ edges brightest of all.