Noon Mass at Sacré Coeur

Adam Vines

Chut, s’il vous plaît,”
the nun says,
her mouthstretching
to the starched
wimplethat etches
the bones
of her face:chut, chut—mass.”
Another tourist
dips his sweaty handinto the marble stoup,
flicking holy water
toward his son.Townspeople slip
through the visitors
to the nave—some with pressed shirts,
thin dresses covered
with flour.When the nineteen-ton
Savoyarde Bell
silences the streets,the altar boys lean
toward the sacristy.
The priest stands,chanting French and Latin.
The celebrants line up
beneath the mosaicof Joan of Arc
and St. Michael
fawning overChrist’s hands:
this morning,
I saw these saints’adoring looks
shine on the faces
of the Three Shadesof Death in Rodin’s
Gates of Hell.
Admiring their fists,the brothers offer gifts
for the damned
drowning in their sins.As I stand behind
a velvet rope,
the priest raises the cup,offers it hand to hand,
its polished sides reflecting
their disciplined lips.

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Adam  Vines

Adam Vines is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and editor of Birmingham Poetry Review. He is also the author of The Coal Life and coauthor of Day Kink and According to Discretion. (Author photo by K. K. Fox)

Grounded in technical mastery, the poems in Out of Speech address issues both universal and timely. In this series of ekphrastic works, Adam Vines explores themes as varied as exile, family, disease, desire, and isolation through an array of twentieth- and twenty-first century painters, including Picasso, Hopper, Rothko, de Kooning, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Artschwager. He also goes within and beyond these works of art to explore characters set in the present-day museums, from a bored docent to a misinformed “explainer” of an artwork’s meaning. Combining these two views—one that looks at the painting and another that looks around it—his poems affirm the artist’s insights into the complexity of being human.

“Adam Vines’s Out of Speech will be the benchmark for contemporary ekphrastic poetry for some time to come. Dazzling tropological shifts allow us to experience an artist’s mind caught up in the imagination of other artists…”
—Ricardo Pau-Llosa

“Again and again, Vines turns description into ritualistic act in these remarkably candid sacraments of soul.”
—Pimone Triplett

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