On the Platform, by Tom Sleigh

1
The omen I didn’t know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach’s repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound.
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave
travels the path of least resistance,
how the notes rebound off steel and stone

the same as a blast wave shattering row on row
of windows as it swerves through the city.
And when the music stops, on the balcony

above the rubble, coffee and tea are served.
And if there’s sugar, is it one lump or two
and did you hear what happened to Mrs. So and So?

2
I saw, out from under the grime, whiskers
dipping into clear water that trickled between
the rails to get the feel of what was near-
the same scene as on the church wall, the slimy brethren

gathered at the river, one gnawing
an ear of corn, the rest intently listening
to Francis teaching them their catechism
about the wild man John and his crucified cousin.

Except they were birds in the painting, not rats.
But let’s go with that, let them stand
on hind legs and sniff incense and myrrh

wafting down from high up in the air
so that one day on miraculous, fly paper feet
they’ll scale the golden walls and storm the high ground.

3
Nothing moving on the platform, nothing for miles.
And then a shovel clanging against paving stone
like an old man clearing rubble while a rat climbs a vine
and looks into the broken window and smells the smells.

Rubble shoulder high after two weeks work,
a toilet with a sink and a light on a pull chain
stand framed at the end of the gravel walk
already sprouting suckers leafing out more green

from the fire that scorched the burned out bush.
Ten years, fifteen, and tree limbs shade the bedrooms
and branch out window frames toward the sun.

And where the electric pump pumped water for the town
the wellhead lies broken and two clear streams
wear ruts in the floor of the wrecked house.

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The Parallel Cathedral, by Tom Sleigh

1
The cathedral being built
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched
so high it was like a cloud of granite
and marble light the house rose up inside.

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses
of stone ascending, flying buttresses
pushing back forces that would have crushed our flimsy wooden beams.
But the hammering and singing of the guilds went on

outside my hearing, the lancets’ stained glass
telling how a tree rose up from Jesse’s loins whose
flower was Jesus staring longhaired from our bathroom wall where I

always wanted to ask if this was how he
really looked, slender, neurasthenic, itching for privacy
as the work went on century after century.

2
Fog in cherry trees, deer strapped
to bumpers, fresh snow marked
by dog piss shining frozen in the day made
a parallel cathedral unseen but intuited

by eyes that took it in and went on to the next
thing and the next as if unbuilding
a cathedral was the work
that really mattered—not knocking

it down which was easy—
but taking it apart stone
by stone until all

that’s left is the cathedral’s
outline coming in and out of limbo
in the winter sun.

3
All through childhood on eternal sick day afternoons,
I lived true to my name, piling dominoes
into towers, fingering the white dots like the carpenter Thomas
putting fingertips into the nail-holes of his master’s hands.

A builder and a doubter. Patron saint of all believers
in what’s really there every time you look:
black-scabbed cherry trees unleafed in winter,
the irrigation ditch that overflows at the back

of the house, chainlink of the schoolyard
where frozen footsteps in the snow
criss-cross and doubleback. And now the shroud falls away

and the wound under his nipple seeps fresh blood.
And when Jesus says, Whither I go you know,
Thomas says, We know not…how can we know the way?