Saint Anthony at Rimini

DEBORAH WARREN

The men he’d come to Rimini to teach,
sending his sermons flowing down the naves —
he could no more make them heed his speech
than he could take a roll call of the waves
and count on their attendance at the beach:
that was the townspeople; they wouldn’t hear
— much less believe — him. But when Anthony
went to the ocean and addressed the billows,
shouting the story of God to an empty sea,
the small fish slowed their sequined fins and listened,
thrust their heads from the water — ripples spread
around them in widening bright concentric haloes;

as he spoke, the fish were spirited
up to stand on the surface, and the air
swam with prisms. But what about his plans?
The well-turned homily — the church precisely
chosen for its charm — the audience
equipped with souls, or at least a human brain
instead of a few dim nerves decked out in scales —
the points of doctrine argued out so nicely?
The townsmen noted how the water glistened
over the gills (as the fish took in his tales)
and, having discounted everything he said,
believed, seeing what he could not explain.

 


Deborah Warren is the author of The Size of Happiness (Waywiser Press, 2003) and Zero Meridian, which received the 2003 New Criterion Poetry Prize (Ivan R. Dee, 2004). Her poems have appeared in The Formalist, The Hudson Review, and The Paris Review.

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)