Two poems by Susanna Rich

Praying to St. Stephen's Hand

Can you feel his sure, tireless hand
amongst the leaves? 

—From Sándor Csoóri’s “Meghallod-e-még?”

I grasp my grief and non-belonging
like a nosegay of paper poppies to
enter this Budapest basilica, pass the velvet-
covered cordon chain, show my ticket to
The Sanctuary of St. Stephen’s Hand.

They call it Szent Jobb—Holy Right,
Better—the left, beyond mouldering, with
Stephen’s other parts, scattered, like memories,
almost a thousand years throughout Hungary—
ancient custom: dissect and bury the king over his

larger body—the land. Into the slot I slip a 100
forint coin—stainless steel ringing a brass core—
for my ration of illumination: an ossified fist lying
in a glass casket among gold acacia leaves—single
Christmas bulb dull. I’m too distracted by the guardian

in Roman collar (and my anticipation of the end of light)
to feel an awe to flatter myself, if momentarily, that I am home
with the Father—that he waits for me, that he might hold
the boy my father was, drifting on hillsides
espaliered with grapevines; and the girl who would

marry him, picking peaches into her apron. I am hungry,
here. On my knees.  Cold. Always the import—west
of the Prime Meridian or east.  Tongue dancing to
strains of someone else’s music.  I am the thief in diaspora—
camera around her neck, world web on her back.

Needing what? The claw of my father’s hand lay
on the hospital sheet—gone was the ebony he hammered
of his thumbnails; gone, the fingers tying my laces.
What I have left: his reaching through my fingers, as if
through gloves, pressing them together, as if in prayer.

Nun Flying Through Walls

(After Míklos Melocco’s sculpture, Budapest)

Ancient corner convent door leads now to
a newsstand—Fuji disposables; paprika, like red horns,
dangling;  holographic cards of Jesus over the Danube.
Even locals rarely know of the stone woman above the lintel,

who flies horizontal through the building’s outer corner—
soles, black shoes, furls of blue habit
are a stone kite on Judge Petermann Street;
belt to granite wimple—she bursts into Townhouse Road.

Wall angles to wall where a magician might slice
through a woman all plumes, décolletage, net tights.
Here, the pink stucco corner chevrons out from her belly.
Bus stop bench across from her, I sit with the lover

to whom my father shuttled on Delta—United
States to Hungary, future to past. My red tulips
wilt in her lap. We look at the nun.  I ask how
one manages decades of longing for the Beloved.

She tells me the only freedom is to turn back,
like Lot’s wife, until you become the pain.
Here she looks at me. I make myself still.
“Only stone can pass through stone,” she says.

We look up, again.  “Yes,” I say, “Let no one
know whether the hands at your lips
pray, hide secrets, or protect your joy.”
“Or,” she adds, “stop hunger with silence.”

About the author

Susanna Rich has published two poetry collections, Television Daddy and The Drive Home. She's also a Fulbright Scholar, a creative non-fiction writer, and an…

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