Unconscious Ode

Ann Keniston

Now that my mother, as others say, has passed,
I like to visit churches that display

the miraculously intact bodies of saints
in glass cases. Sometimes the hem of their carved garment

is smooth from being touched. No one but Bernadette
ever saw the beautiful smiling child in white

who called herself Immaculate, but thousands
came to Lourdes to watch her witnessing

that miracle. Even the faithful, it seems,
require an intermediary between themselves

and what’s invisible. In each of us, my mother thought,
there exists a hidden essence, mostly evident

as pain or desire or the compulsion to repeat,
not immortal soul but the unconscious. Her life’s work

was to find and comfort it. In buses, the blind,
lame and dying still make pilgrimages

to Lourdes. Past the kitschy shops, the spring
Bernadette scrabbled in the dirt to find,

and the porch cluttered with abandoned
canes and wheelchairs, they press their hair and faces

against the muddy wall, the enormous church
behind them affirming an uncontaminated world

in the midst of escalating misery and also
the body in pain. I don’t believe

my mother is immortal or scattered
over the earth or even alive in me.

But in dreams, which are how the unconscious
speaks, redundantly, in puns and symbols,

she sometimes appears, often thin and naked
but occasionally healthy, wearing her elegant

work clothes, and sits with me beside
a hanging garden like the wondrous,

vanished one in Babylon, in which
the flowers, because they are so heavy,

bloom abundantly, their weight enabling
the blooming, then greater heaviness and more blooming.

Ann Keniston is the author of the poetry collection The Caution of Human Gestures and a chapbook, November Wasps: Elegies, as well as several scholarly books on recent American poetry. Poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in third coast, Water-Stone, and The Gettysburg Review. She is a professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Originally published:
July 1, 2018


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