Excerpts > Elaine Sexton
A Tongue on the Road
Elaine Sexton

Here's the part of the Mass I hate, where
you have to say to strangers, in words,

you'd never use in life, "Peace be
with you." When you do this you have to

embrace bodies in a way that's not natural,
not even at a party with cocktails. We are

bundled in coats. It is winter. The church
is stone. All through the gospel a young woman

two pews in front rubs her son's back,
then his head, his shoulders. She is tugging,

and tugs him, closer and closer, tighter than,
even he, clinging back, wants to be.

She searches his whole body to soothe him.
Or herself. I wish she would stop.

My mother is crying. I draw her temple
to my lips. She is mourning a loss, her

husband. She wants me to take Communion.
I won't. It's enough I'm here at all.

I look back to see who's in the balcony,
singing. I remember the toll booth attendant

last night on my long drive home
and imagine she says, "Go in peace,"

though mine is a journey she only takes fares for.
She is a god or a saint she doesn't know

she invokes. She trails, as all strangers do
in a dream. A tongue on the road,

empty, a speed dangerous
and high. She is a summons,

a siren. A chill in the night. Air.
A hand out. An idea.

She is what it takes
to get there.

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