American Culture · American Literature · Classic · Collection · Contemporary · Poetry · Southern Literature

Alison Pelegrin

Hot Sauce Shrine

I used to be a high priestess of tail-feather feel-good
mumbo jumbo, naysayer extraordinaire
cobbling together some crazy quilt catechism
to cling to as I tangled in the world’s thorns,
frantic, fearing the chill soon to come.
I haven’t turned holy roller or handler of snakes,
but things changed slowly, or all at once.
Maybe it was when I drove through a dust devil
and inhaled its grit of cut grass and cigarette butts.
I’ve taken to praying since the whirlwind
shook me loose, or anyway I dip my head
at stoplights until I get distracted by scenery,
or birds, and the prayers come out confused.
I’m clueless—my angel of place smokes blunts
and speaks to me in bug bite braille. I know
to visit Saint Roch and turn his statue to the wall,
but I hunger for alone time on an island
with an organ that plays itself, or to whisper
all my secrets to the hot sauce shrine.
I read that the world is a dream of God,
and now I don’t know what to do with my hands.
The world is God’s dream and I am a sparrow
passing through song and the brass glow of fire,
or maybe that is wrong, and I’m trapped inside,
stunned against the glass or down the chimney,
terrified of kind hands that sweep me to the door.
When I wake I’m walking the moonlit labyrinth
with wet feet, and the birds are quiet because
I have terrified them with the thunder
of my stumbling. Oh God of everything that creeps,
I light a candle and ask my question:
Is it pilgrimage enough if I spend my life
remembering the few seconds I was a bird?

Alison Pelegrin, Waterlines: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2016)

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