The Potomac - Poetry and Politics
December 2006 - THE POTOMAC

Three Nuns Walking
   Cheryl W. Ruggiero

In this photograph, a graveled road
bisects a silver wood. Straight it goes,
and narrow so great pillar-boled larches
meet above and mask the sky into scintils of daylight stars,
yet broad enough so three nuns walk away abreast.
Their arms are not at work plaiting prayer around rosaries
but at rest. Black habits swing like silent handbells,
pale coifs atop like white-gloved fists.
Ahead, almost lost in this gray perspective's vanishing point,
high horizontals and right angles indicate an exit—or entrance.

So much can be seen. Here is what can be told.

Behind the feathery branches' sentinel shade,
this wood is a haven of graves
where stones spell blessings on the dead,
weathering marble angels gaze,
granite obelisks lean,
and netting roots search earth once shaped by spades
for slow-unwinding helices of bone becoming dust.

Beyond abides a town of hot springs
where Celts trekked for vapors now known to be radon.
Romans built their villa and bath, today restored for tourists.
Kaisers and their kin visited in the kurhaus.
A vicious Reich arose, ravaged, and lay in ruins.
Americans built their airfield and base, today empty.
Europeans on holiday immerse themselves
in waters rich with radium and salt.

Between, three nuns walk toward a gate.
One leans on a cane as she goes. It must have made
a thump and grit at every step.

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