[T]here are few secret places in your heart where I do not have access.
          However little you have opened the doors of your heart to me,
          I feel that I can look right in it and see all that is hidden there.
                                        —Saint Francis de Sales1


A wildfire of speech shoots the breeze
out of you, scorches lips with words
that press like olive flesh through your
sun-bleached teeth, like wind whistling through
ash, clouds carrying around your
enemy’s tune from Pompeii to
Tuscany, limbs and grins falling
through paths, your crescent moons of smiles
crashing there, too, like cash through hands,
oil into lamps, dynasties to
poverty, springs bursting wine-skins
of eager hands through ravenous
fingers as you thirst for silence


and hunger to eat your past, to
douse every last match, to stop
speaking these things, leaking with ease
what drought of tears has been keeping
you here when you could be where you
want, where you can barely make out
the horizon or count all the
faces of children who cannot
count on you any longer, so
high on a mountain’s peak that it
cannot discern you, there is no
place you would rather see or be
seen than all of it burning at


your feet, grovelling for mercy,
leprous as forests of old growths,
cinders kneeling as toy soldiers
do, melting into position
as, speechless, they obey and wait
to be swallowed by the limits
of your coward’s fiction your mind’s
unkindness creates for them, flesh
curdling to near-liquid with all
the quickness of a gravedigger’s
lye, sighing like milk-ivory
plastic, melting like candy blind
of its colour, cooling hard like


molten honey made frozen, or
volcanic victims preserved by
what hell cooked them, ending, but not
destroying them, bending to your
whim as if to say you said too
much, but that would mean there is at
least another way, another
version, something imperfect but
not a perversion of the truth,
something apocryphal that plays
at the heart, but that ending has
been suppressed ever since you gave
up on civilization to


live as the stylites do, atop
pillars in the desert, hermits
imprisoned by their pedestals,
withdrawing from it all to live
as an anchorite in your head,
sinking into madness instead,
drowning in a substance that is
not even real, burning in flames
that only you can heal, a wound
of tongues concealing how much you
fear love, revealing how tough it
is to be touched by fire when the
whole world can see your spark even


when you cannot, your soul’s hurt just
an eclipse the sting of which dusk
follows noon with the swiftness of
an antelope to fill for those
whose hope cannot be extinguished
by doubt, such is the light love casts
onto shadows you wear like shrouds
to keep it out, but I can see
in, indeed, there a few secret
places where the heat of a man’s
existence is warm enough to
greet another without making
any sound or sign, but being.

1Saint Francis de Sales, “[Letter of Spiritual Direction to] Madame Brûlart, [March] 1605” in “Francis de Sales: Letters” of Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction: Translated by Péronne Marie Thibert, V. H. M.: Selected and Introduced by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph F. Power, O. S. F. S.: Preface by Henri J. M. Nouwen, published at New York by Paulist Press in 1988; page 108.