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Latin Mass

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A hawk taloned to a light post
above the frozen pond.
Two boys shovel a rink.

An altar boy in Zagreb, my father-​in-​law
mumbled, in lieu of Latin, the same
nonsense I did in Detroit — kneeling
at the altar, riffing the Confiteor.
Then bodies from war stacked up
in pews, and his priest melted away,
silent as a candle.

Who decided on tasteless hosts?
The hawk and I exchange silence
amid the gentle glide of boys
on skates shoveling.

When the hawk falls
into ecstatic swoop, my heart
lurches into the primitive.
Gibberish is in the ear
of the beholder. Brutality
needs no translation.
My father-​in-​law unable
to hunt words.

The boys turn with me
and we stare up at the god
of that moment cruising
the snow-​crusted hollow,
the needle carrying the thread
of our gaze — no one rings,
or needs to ring, any bells.


Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels’ latest book is “Rowing Inland,” Wayne State University Press. Forthcoming books include “Street Caligraphy” and “The Middle Ages.” He is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.