After William Merritt Chase, In the Baptistry of St. Mark’s, Venice (1878)
On Saturdays, at terce
I polish the brass. One by one
the candles from their unlit altar
in my calloused hands I carry
to a bench of pine my ancestors made.
Outside the sun bakes pilgrims in the square.
I sit in shadows, back against cool marble.
The candlesticks rest in my lap.
The polish stains my apron.
I peel away the hardened
husks of thrice-said prayers,
and with a cloth gentled by laundering
caress their graceful necks, their
swollen bellies, archéd feet.
I have no hurry. I have
polished this candlestick a thousand
years. I shall polish the next
a thousand more
until the light from high
windows the dark stones swallow
finds each arc, each surface,
makes it gleam.
I need no candle here.
I make the unseen visible.
My eyes will find
my work when it is finished.