The Symbolical Real Pierson

The Symbolical Real

(After Elaine Whittaker’s Art Installation  "Tether")

by Ruth Roach Pierson2009

For a time Elaine planned
to use the actual red plaid robe
in her art installation.
But aesthetics and an insuperable  
sense of trespass
led her instead to hang
a black and white photograph
of the garment her father wore
in the days before he died.
I understood her change of heart,
myself ill at ease handling
the few books I have received
from your small library –  
an American Heritage Dictionary,
latest edition, your OED, and the Oxford
Dictionary of the Christian Church.
You studiously consulted the latter
during one of my last visits,
helping me amend a poetic reference I’d made
to the Great Schism of 1054.
Now when I hold that book in my hands
I can feel your fingers searching through its pages
and am overcome by the imbalance of things –
my acquisitiveness, your poverty
my marriages, your celibacy
my defiance of the rules, your obedience
my handful of poems, your sermons and prayers
your dying and my continuing to live.