From Dead Man’s Flower:
From behind the altar the picture appears to be a painting,
all color and sheen.
Only up close does one notice the unevenness of shapes,
cracks and fissures, spaces between tiles,
or the force required to shatter something, whether piece of glass
or planes of human being: a mosaic belies its origin.
A kind of peace reigns when the pieces, the tesserae, fit together,
but violence roils beneath, invisible.
Dulled by years of smoke and candle-grime, unlike a painting,
a mosaic still shines
like the face of an old saint, colors muted, graceful,
a finitude created by the sole adhesive that endures: time.
Mosaic, a six-letter word containing nine muses, ladies painting
strands of melody, blue, lavender, orange, color-echoes from the strings
of a lyre, the music of the spheres, balm to soothe a fevered body
or a broken soul.
I step up, coins in hand, to board the tram to the Coliseo.
On the outside panel I see that word: tesserae, tokens.
Have them ready! You will need them for the journey.
This poem first appeared in the 2010 edition of Reach of Song,
anthology of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.