Toby Olson

The short dog strains against the leash.
He wants that bone
            in the traffic and its flesh too,
a leg left behind;
skid marks, and a black shoe
at the temporary barricade.

Vinnie's energized by hit and run
and a chemical adrenalin,
that nun
            limping at the mission steps
on crutches.
He's in a Buick this time,
                        wide enough for narrow streets,
and California flowers, bloody as his fender,
spill at the curbs.

Her prayers rise
like chicken feathers in the wind:
            O patron saint of missing limbs,
avocados and beach party bingo.
Sister Carolyn
            Medina's lost her passion
for Christ and pastoral charity.
It's shampoo
for the short dog and a butcher's bone,
perfunctory novenas for her nemesis.

I was idling at the corner
watching the lower-rider, in deference
            to the Sisters of Mercy.
Let these apparitions pass in the crosswalk.
I was free of all attachments,
though an orthopedic surgeon and the donor.

A golden chalice on the seat beside Vinnie,
Christ's picture
            on a deck of holy cards,
a bag full of cheap scapulas and rosaries,
                        those earth laden roots
at his shoulder.
Theft planned to appear indiscriminate
after their rendezvous
in the garden near the parish sacristy.

I was there for the tree planting
            ceremony at the mission's new wing:
a sister, with a shovel
                        at her black hem;
and photographers, newspaper writers, parishioners
represented by the chosen one,
            whose skirts rose easily for father McGonigle.
Not sister Carolyn Medina, not soon enough.
The one she'd thought of as her friend in Christ.

She came coyly forward on her crutches
            in habit and impossible dream.
At least I was fingering my rosary.
A bacchanal
among artificial limbs and braces, scent
            of flesh along some inner thigh
so virginal in California traffic.

She'd lifted her foot to the shovel,
in dignified posture in rain.
Vision of her name then
            on the tree's replacement,
ceremony for a brass plaque: Sister Carolyn
            Medina Commemorates The Loss·.
but it was that fair-weather friend once again
and I was the donor of the plaque too.

What they called beach party bingo,
            eating avocados on the blanket at Laguna,
among the recently rich and hip.
He was Sean again
            in his early sixties, high energy
from celibacy:
old man open to a younger woman
                        with intentions, groaning,
more self-directed than he.

How mysterious, when I autoclaved the chicken,
the short dog perched upon her lap
                        and Vinnie at the surgical table
in cast shadows,
            fiddling with the stirrups and the leash.
One remembers such nights only
as infra-slim,
            that space between earthy roots
                        and oil of yesterday on artificial limbs,
our abstinence of chicken skin;
breath of dark interior virginal in air.

Father McGonigle wrote plans for the nemesis
and received some in return.
            He's in a California city, drives a car
and has civilian clothes.
Yet he can't find the proper
            surplice, his holy pictures, and the old
tarnished chalice
just won't do.
He thinks he'll call the authorities,
then he sees Sister
Carolyn Medina at the window and remembers
            the posture of his nemesis
among leaves,
                        now a vacancy, in rain
at the mission's new wing.
He's standing there,
throbbing for an understanding.

Vinnie's in a Chrysler this time, the nemesis
name cut in brass on the seat beside him
and spoils of the sacristy,
a surplice and impetuous letters.
            Sisters of Holy Mother Church
are in the crosswalk,
and the short dog's barking for his bone.

Then Sister Carolyn Medina's limping
            at the mission steps,
heading for candles and forgiveness
in perfunctory novenas.
                        A shade shifts at the window.
I await those artificial limbs in my office,
            and Vinnie's wrapped in his bloody fenders,
cruising the twisted
streets of Los Angeles.