The Transfiguration of Apulia

Matthew Alderman

… Who delights to scatter such masterpieces

over the place where we spend our brief time of exile.

—St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul

So I looked up from The Story of a Soul and
Put Therese and the Child Jesus to sleep.
And felt the quiet wash over my brain.

Everyone on the bus was drowsing in their naps,
But me.

Light danced on the leaves caught on the
Movie screen of the bus windshield.

The endless telephone poles seemed like rows of crosses,
While ranks of windmills blew on ridges
Grand enough for an army of giants:
Don Quixote’s nephilim come back from the dead.

Around us rolled velvet fields,
Golden-green beneath a sea of movie clouds
Hanging low and purple in the sky,
Tops crested wonderfully in white.

The sun came through luminous wounds,
Islands of beaten electrum
Against a sky of virgin blue
Marvelous blue, hazy blue
Rainstorm blue in the distant horizon
Suspended over mountains
Pink as Sicilian angel wings.

And the rays streaked sidelong like baroque spotlights
From a frescoed Jesuit ceiling
As they transfixed a single silver spot,
A nebulous wing, a dragon head,
And this (I thought, not saw) should be the sign:
Twelve stars, a crown,
Ringing round a maiden pure,
Clothed in the sun,
Her feet on the moon
And in her arms a Child.

It was Apulia, that lost province of Italy
Tucked down forgotten on the stiletto heel of her Prada boots,
Yet it seemed
Like some Technicolor version of my own Indiana:
The familiar transmuted,
The lily gilded,
The gold refined.

And the clouds parted and became
Like unto a diaphanous lazuli
Womb, fringed with light, lined with silver,
Like an oculus,
Its center blinding light,
Clothed with the sun.

It was beautiful as an army with banners,
The green before us,
Around us,
Behind us and within us,
And yet I knew that soon enough
We would see
A new heaven and a new earth,
A New Jerusalem:
And all would come to despairing dust
As the backdrop of the sky was rolled up like a scroll.

Remember man, thou art dust.
And to dust thou wilt return.

But then what shall we do—
Shall we wait in a darkened room
Until the Doom
And think of nothing else?

But even this temporary tent,
This makeshift universe
Has been decorated by a Hand
That saw it was good indeed.

And so we wait:
We, we are the troubadours and fools
Jugglers and jokers
Building paper palaces for our God
And so much is the greater glory.

I sat there in the bus
Feeling detached and bodiless
(But not truly bodiless)
As we streaked through the afternoon
And I wondered perhaps if I had already died.

—Matthew Alderman