Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Sarah Gordon: Acta Sanctorum

Ever notice that some machines, after you’ve shut them off,
keep humming for a while, whether you’re listening or not?
So it is with the saints. They, being dead, yet speak.
 
Lord knows we all search for a way to be, a fire
to sit around, some sign at the intersection of major
highways. Saints, too, with their guileless gaze, 
 
must look for the place where purpose stands up
and steps closer, where the full wrinkled robe
of the body, now graceful, goes it alone.
 
Benedict saw the whole world in a sunbeam, 
and when wild Augustine let his finger fall
on the sacred text, all was changed.
 
Aldhelm danced like a clown in the public square,
to win hearts, then souls, he said, and we love him
for that impish joy, that easy surrender
 
of the propriety or sobriety that makes some
hate the faith. His life hums away, a happy tune.
And why not? Need saintly lips be pursed and grim?
 
Oh martyrdom’s another matter! 
When we let slip that armload of belongings
and the most loved bowl shatters at our feet, perhaps
 
then, of all times, we hold our bodies close. The martyrs,
standing in their corner, do not invite our company, 
they possess only readiness, which is, of course, all. 
 
Their clothes are deeply soiled and won’t come clean. 
We don’t pretend to see as they did, those much older
siblings. They’d already left home before we were born.

Copyright 2011 Sarah Gordon. First published in Georgia Review.

Ed. Note: Acta Sanctorum (Acts of the Saints) is an encyclopedic text in 68 folio volumes of documents examining the lives of Christian saints, in essence a critical hagiography, which is organized according to each saint’s feast day. The project was conceived and begun by Jesuit Heribert Rosweyde. After his death in 1629, the Jesuit scholar Jean Bolland (‘Bollandus’, 1596–1665) continued the work, which was gradually finished over the centuries by the Bollandists, who continue to edit and publish the Acta Sanctorum. The Full Text Database with complete illustrations is available online here.

Cover image of the Acta Sanctorum Database (detail)

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