Childhood Saturday nights found us
in the cloistered dark of the old church
dim lit to save on bills, but menacing still,
with Gothic shadows in every corner
fit for scenes from horror on a screen.
We’d line up by fluted columns
that reached to a shadowed ceiling
free of saints, and waited to open up
the spirit’s vein and bleed out all
our sad litanies of petty crime.
The old priest, half deaf, drew crowds,
making us whole again for the cost
of three mumbled Hail Marys
as we knelt in the dark pews
and scanned the hidden corners for a sign.
Beneath the pews, along the floor,
ran pipes for a heating system old as sin,
and on cold nights they’d hiss and moan,
then commence to clanging like lost souls
till the whole church trembled with the noise.
In this fit setting, at eight I shuddered,
at thirteen grumbled, and at sixteen
merely mourned the sad irony
beneath the frozen agonies of
a rough-cut, varnished Christ.
Years later, that old apartment with
two narrow rooms, high-ceilinged,
had ancient radiators with chipped paint
flecks of rust, and constant minor leaks—
late on cold nights, they sang,
sang their raucous organ song, rumbling,
banging, raising all of hell or at least
the demons hidden in their dark,
meandering pipes—the super would come,
but only after endless calls.
Old and half-deaf, he’d wrench the joints,
and sound his rasping, high-pitched laugh
that turned to coughing soon enough—
“had to bleed the bastards—water leaks
out and air gets in—got to bleed it out.”
So we went, many nights, till I moved on,
no longer assailed by the angry pipes, but
reassured by the subtle flow of forced air
whose soft breath brings near silence—
but in silence, then, what echoes can remain?
Lying awake in the too quiet dark,
regretting the lost song of ancient pipes,
I wonder if this be peace or merely absence.
Where’s the loud spirit that once trembled nights,
and who now can bleed away what’s trapped within?
Vincent Casaregola is a professor of English at Saint Louis University and the director of the university’s film studies program. His work has appeared in The Examined Life, Natural Bridge, New Letters, Via, and The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, among others, and he has won several awards for literary nonfiction and poetry, including first place in 2014 at the James H. Nash Poetry Competition in St. Louis.