“Little Song (Altar)” by Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar


I found the way
of no way by avoiding
the path that had been
avoided. What did
I hope to find
but a self beyond self,
one past hunger,
or ambition, some
essence past essence.
Like the Bee Gees
without blow or a beat,
or a redneck sans
mullet, like a self-addressed
ransom note, or a map
with no directions—
only the places where
horses have drowned.
I thought of the juggler
without his one impossible
trick: to make one
of the balls in the air
completely still
while the world goes on
around us. If you
had a ballot without
names, would you
have a ballot for
the nameless? One
for the vanished.
My friend, there will
never again be a
Mediterranean Sea
without the thousand
who drowned this week.
Their names are no-
where. Can you pray
for those without?
And what would a prayer
without names or words
sound like? And if
there’s no cathedral
you could dream for
this prayer of no
prayer, you might say it
in this little skiff
that once carried
refugees, now dry-
docked for good,
boat that no longer
serves as a boat
but a reliquary of
fifty square feet
of empty air, while
you break a body
that is not here
to remember a death
that was the death
of death, you hold still
while the incense cloud
billows like fog
upon the water,
& remember those
you never knew who
you lost, remember
the one who told you
I will make you
fishers of men.

Poets Respond
June 7, 2016

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Mark Wagenaar: “A priest used a former refugee boat as the altar for Mass, to memorialize the refugees who had drowned.” (website)

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