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Spirit and Flesh

by Nick Pipitone

This cathedral was once a spiritual home.
Priests dabbed foreheads with holy water,
incense drifted to high ceilings,
parishioners said, “Peace be with you.”

That was before tent encampments spread
under the bridge, people wandered the streets
at midnight, sleeping in dirty blankets;
in daylight. You saw sores ooze on
arms and legs, vacant eyes, gaunt faces,
looking like they were between this world
and the next. We found ’em frozen on
wintry mornings, their lips a chalky blue.

The cathedral crumbled,
stained glass shattered.
They moved in, lit fires in trash cans;
orange light shone onto the dark street.
We knew they shot dope; we’d see ’em emerge
like ghosts on Halloween, loose shirts draped
over bony shoulders. They’d walk to the bodega,
buy cigarettes with dimes and nickels,
count slowly as cashiers glared behind glass.

We recalled the cathedral from years ago
and thought of light, darkness, saints, sinners.
Jesus watched weathered faces from a rusty cross,
they huddled in the cold, hastening their demise,
dying in the pews. We thought God forgave them
and, if Jesus walked, they’d be his apostles.

Cops cleared the cathedral.
We saw broken needles strewn on filthy floors.
We saw inside the church:
this used to be a sacred space,
but wait... it was still sacred,
but instead of Spirit conquering flesh,
flesh conquered decaying Spirits.
We stood in the fading evening light;
the city spun swiftly,
grinding our bones to dust,
and swallowed us whole.

Copyright © 2020 by Nick Pipitone

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