Philip C. Kolin is the distinguished professor of English emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi and editor emeritus of The Southern Quarterly. His most recent book is Reaching Forever.
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A Litany for St. Martin de Porres
On your mother’s side Abyssinian slaves,
grandees from Spain on your father’s.
How could someone dark
as a Dominican’s cappa with a burnt
oak face and a halo of knotted hair
be the patron of holiness?
Barbering and sweeping were not
causes for sainthood.
The Lady on Short Columbia Street
I saw her in the month of mumps
puffed up in poverty’s robes,
a woman of fragments,
a shuffling quilt with running threads—
more holes, really, than skein.
You could read history in the headlines
she wore, partial untruths, incomplete
fictions. All of her lovers
failed to match the shoes she put on.
Every child she birthed missed having
national sunshine and two names.
She dodged taxes on her home;
it never had an address to speak of and
moved like wind-spinning, clanking aluminum cans
she chased for pennies.
Her boudoir looked like a butcher’s sleeve;
stolen ketchup packets from McDonald’s
provided ambergris for her perfume.
She was disqualified for any entitlements
except for open dumpsters on eyeless streets.
But mail always waited for her
no postage due; she was the patron
of the discarded; on winter nights the USPS
coated her from the leprous jaws of the wind.
She slept at the homes of three different zip codes
one January; always leaving at dawn’s early light;
she thought the flag needed to be washed.