First Communion

When I was seven, I was hit by a car. It was early March, the month of St. Patrick and of my special day, the feast of Saint Joseph. The accident is significant to me because that’s where my chain of memories begins. Before that, all I have is a collection of vignettes any one of which could be a memory, the residue of a story someone else has told me, or the imprint of an imaginary episode. When I rifle through them I sometimes feel I can order them chronologically. But they don’t connect to one another the way the memories do beginning with coming to while lying in the middle of the street one block from home with a mosaic of faces I didn’t know hovering above me.

I called for my mother and she answered even though I couldn’t see her. She said, “Your OK. Just lie still. You’re going to be all right.” She stayed with me all the way to the hospital. I know because I could feel her hand holding mine, and I could hear her talking, but for some reason I couldn’t see her. Continue reading

Fireflies Redux

The Bacon Review was an online literary journal published from 2011 to 2016. Its editors Jason Barry and Eric Westerlind were a delight to read as well as to write for, and their commitment to good writing and to the writers they published is evident in the effort they made to preserve the work in an archive that’s easily accessible and well worth the time to peruse.

In July of 2013, they published my short story “Fireflies,” which you can find (all but the conclusion) in the archive. Or, you can read it here. But if you do, please don’t forget to click through to the archive and spend time with work worth reading.

Fireflies

First Published in The Bacon Review (on line) July 2013
(c) Copyright Joseph Saling 2013, 2018

Mary Ann, with autumn hair and eyes the rarest green. Mary Ann feeds the pigeons in the school court yard and prays at early mass with the nuns. Mary Ann teasing, running with my hat in her hand, throws it into a rose bush in front of the convent.

“Ouch! Stop that Jason! You’re pulling my hair!”

###

Continue reading

Pange Lingua

Group portrait of children at their First Comm...

Group portrait of children at their First Communion, Holyrood School, Swindon, 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you know the words, sing along while you listen to the poem.

On Taking First Communion in the Hospital After He Was Struck by a Car

(March 5)

When he heard the angels sing, they sounded more
Like sirens. Strapped to a board, riding through
The red-lighted city, he called out for
His mother to make them stop. He’d lost a shoe.
His stomach hurt, and their song, he knew, was death.

He couldn’t see her, but he heard her speak
To men up front then say to him, It’s best
To let them be. It’s not that far. Just keep
Holding my hand.
He asked her was he dying.
Of course you’re not. God’s not done with you.

When they arrived, they made her let go her hold.
I can’t come, she said, I have to do what I’m told,
And left him by himself in a room, lying
On a table, afraid to think what God might do.

(March 19)

White walls and sheets, white pillow. Pale white light
From fluorescent tubes. Even his gown is white.
The priest wears a black cassock and white surplice,

Takes out a gold case he lays on the white surface
Of the bedside table, and holds up a wafer
Whiter than the prayer book his father placed there.

What did they say he was to say? My Lord,
I am not worthy
. But only say the word
And my soul will be as white as this room I’m in
.

The body tastes sweet, but not as sweet as the wine
That follows. And when he hears his mother’s voice
It seems an angel speaks and says the choice

To take communion is an early sign
He surely has a place in God’s design.

(April 20)

Days pass, then a month. It seems forever.
Then a nun arranges them two by two.
They march across the street together.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.

Then a nun arranges them two by two
To go inside the confessional box.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.
They listen while the sister talks.

To go inside the confessional box,
She says, they’ll need to remember their sins.
They listen while the sister talks.
She tells them how confession begins.

She says they’ll need to remember their sins
To ask the priest to be forgiven.
She tells them how confession begins
With an act of genuine contrition.

To ask the priest to be forgiven
They march across the street together.
With an act of genuine contrition
Days pass, then a month, it seems forever.

(May 19)

Once in the church they stand against the wall
As sister shows them how their hands must point
To heaven and their eyes always look down
As if they were little lambs. Then she calls
Them to the altar railing. When they join
Her there, she makes them kneel. Don’t look around.

First wait, then cross your arms over your chest.
Look up, put out your tongue, and close your eyes.
Remember, remember this. Whatever you do,
Never open your mouth and never chew.
Just bow your head. You’ve the living God inside.
Let the host dissolve and know that for the rest
Of your life God will always be a part
Of you, both in your mind and in your heart.

(May 24)

On Sunday children gather at the school
And walk across the street, like little lambs.

They enter the church where sunlight filters through
The blues and reds of sainted glass. Their hands
Pointing to heaven, they walk down the aisle.

Sister said no first communion a second time,
And so from a place apart he watches while
Each takes the bread and sees none gets the wine.

In the vestibule he stands off to one side.
His father shakes their hands. The nuns delight
In patting heads of carefully combed hair
And call each a vessel where God abides.

He suffocates in all the filtered light
But once outside dissolves in the sun’s white glare.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

The music is from the Medieval Latin hymn Pange, Lingua, Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium, which means “Tell, tongue, the mystery of the glorious body.”