In what history now calls a “summer of blood,” to party at all

            took finesse, real finesse—call it

our backdoor miracle.  We

spread our loaves with fishes—

 

sockeye or tuna (sometimes Spam)—and laced our rum with the real,

            the classic Coke (though all

            original spirits in it had been

            long since de-coked).

 

One night the Jesuits threw two birthday parties for their patron saint,

            Ignatius, but the one where we 

            would drink till dawn came after

            the Mass, and this left us,

 

Fra Sidney from Queens stepped forth to confess, “no wine to drink.”

            Which was not exactly true,

            however unalterably correct.

            Jugs of it there were, courtesy of 

 

the Brothers Gallo and Almaden (that lost brand), but not a drop of it

            potable, the wine being blooded still

            by the Fathers’ prior consecration,

            now neither trope nor nature.

 

Some called it unusually, almost rabbinically, tough luck

            there in those after-hours

            when someone walking off

            a mountaintop, hoping to have

 

counted the streaks of an evening’s Perseid shower, could run

            into a Loyolan conundrum

            pitting desideratum against

fortuna, the starfall

           

you wanted versus the moonball you got. But can sacrilege

            be committed by mistake,

            the way a random oyster may

            fox even an abstemious liver?

 

Could a priest bless something—anything—by accident?

            So it was that the stout Fathers

            argued their case, slaloming

            between host and guest, balancing

 

the ripe pineapple of doctrine against the dull machete of grace,

            pressing the needle’s eye of dogma

            into stricter crosshairs, friendlier

            fire, until the jungle-green

 

mountaintops of Vermont heard the voice of the law

            melt into garnets of pinot

            noir, carnelians of cabernet,

fire opals of cool rosé,

 

by dint of a breath-test, o mio Sid, worthy of the holiest.

 

 

                        *           *            *

 

 

Right then, of course, ladies and gentlemen, I knew I’d be

            a teacher. I remembered a poster

            I found one teenaged afternoon

            in England one bloodless summer.

             

 I was standing at the porch of a forgettable Norman church,

            its axis not merely off-line (for,

            as you know, they all are) but

            quite wrong.  I was there because

 

deciphering ancient gravestones in the rain had left me

            counting up all the girls I

            would never date back home.

            Beside the 16th-century

 

double-doors, a bulletin board announced our century’s stuff:

            child-care hours,  evensong,

            a bring-and-buy sale, rewards

            for lost Shelties.  And there it was,

 

much faded—a French chef’s knife beside a sliced loaf,

            goblets of claret, black as Guinness,

            in the block-print of a ransom note:

            YOU ARE ALL INVITED TO MY HOUSE.

 

Call what I felt then hunger if you call paychecks satisfaction.

            A longueur—or was it

            just being soaked through

            all that summer?—made a backdoor

 

in the labyrinth of this declaration open into an exclamation.

            Where faith means to leap

            without finesse.  Where to eat

            means the taste of body,

 

a tongue of  blood.  Where to enter is to go all the way in. 

 

*             *             *

 

At Bread Loaf the faith of the Fathers left them only one 

            recourse which, students of piety, 

            they took: the profane joy of company.                     

            While we gossiped they unseated

 

from their ancient vows the benedictive stuff that leaves

            in human imbibers its sulfites,

            esters, cream of tartar, tannin

            (oxidized) and unconverted sugar,

 

elevating their triglycerides but leaving the transsubtantial

            untrespassed.  And this is where,

            as you’ve learned, we can hear

            the gears of Reformation grinding

 

the magic of human sacrifice into the efficacy of prayer,

            which is internal and voluntary,

            converting flagellated desire 

            into situational ethics.

 

Take my son, for instance, who is fretting out, one room

            away, Bach’s first suite for 

            cello, following Pablo first,

            then Yo-Yo, two tapes,

 

and fighting the beginner’s wish to keep the left hand in

first position, even as the long

line longs for a bow-work

            so intricate in the right… .

 

And now I think I may have been mistaken this whole while.

            (Note here the valedictorian’s

            backdoor miracle: confession.)

            I may have made too much

 

of what was, like providence itself, merely a local adjustment

            for historical accident.

            Nor am I sure that Father

            Sid wasn’t really Brother Dan

 

or some Paul or other from Sioux Falls.  Nor can I recall

            (my worst failing here)

            the name of my best friend

            from that summer, a noviate

 

who retreated that very weekend to a hotel in Montpelier

            to decide whether, then how,

            to get laid.  Some years later,

            I learned, on the Lincoln corner

 

of the lane which joins the Turl and Camera, he used a paving

            stone against his own skull

            after the woman he’d left

            the Order for sent him her

 

four-line Dear-John letter, written both in blood and Latin.

            He ingested old Father Hopkins

            (of course), gorged himself on Joyce,

            and was drinking hard

 

to dodge the draft (first on, then to spite, the wings of the church).

            And so we lost touch.  (I’ve 

            lost even his name.)  Why 

            did I believe he had died? 

 

When did I start seeing him, as today, seated there among you?

 

 

                                                                                     

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

 

 

Kurt Heinzelman MA ‘72 is a scholar, poet, translator, and editor; he is a professor of English at the University of Texas—Austin.