the mystery of faith
somebody once told me, maybe while i was waiting
at a railroad crossing, the gate arm a guillotine
severing train hoppers from homebound freights
or maybe in the barbershop taking the chair
you greet with surrender, a blade that could meet
bone marrow cool as a corsage against your neck,
that suffering is optional. i keep a clean, painstaking
archive of scars, scabs, & stigmata to rival any martyr’s
cadaver from opiate nods to pure boredom
to the fallen cedar silent at my heels: my shadow.
my shadow hugs every crack in the sidewalk
that follows underfoot, rolls his eyes & snubs me
until i’m lonely as anyone at the end of their rope.
at the end of my rope is my reflection in a barrel
below. my favorite road is always the stretch that yawns
longer & louder between a sky gone faint & a field
unrecognizable behind a swarm of descending hawks.
i want what breaks my heart to break your heart.
the hawk that dives & catches its hatchling still learning
to fly, a hellbound man rusted & passive as a weathervane
convinced he knows what’s next. what’s next was next
yesterday. we live daily in fear of dying alone but spare
the departed any weeping or prayers. we pay tribute
by toppling relics & offering a thousand new comrades
to mirrors with one merciful strike, find courtship in ruin
cold & brilliant as diamonds scattered on a minefield.
on a minefield the snow thaws under winter’s sun.
the world is a barrel, rope ready to snap. how many times
have you heard it’s never too late? what about the end
of the day? the worms & rain you welcome when
you finally rest? the keening of a hawk overhead
the dust in a beam of headlights that never land
Judas as a cardinal recognizing himself in the mirror
there are spirits living in this crumbling
bungalow, that for sale sign doesn’t fool me.
from the rectory to the yellow pages
no exorcism or consecration has persuaded
them to leave. i fear it’s me they hang around
to haunt, each cemetery i pass more & more
an open house. for a little peace & quiet
i might stoop to trade Mary Magdalene
her hair a black almost purple, or blue
in the right light if that’s your thing.
tonight the one star left still devoted
to living out her curse lurches like a fire
-fly, her last days & labored flicker
resigned to a bell jar. a scene i watch
to mourn how maladroit my own
troubled core. someone is always broken
-hearted around here. at least no less
than hindered, the business of crooning
sad sacks off ledges forever booming. i listened
with my ears pressed to the stereo, a tape deck
anything to hear the clear, hard snap a singer’s
chest makes when their sins start to stir
into song. take Leonard’s grief, a grief
i took & still take as gospel, over gunning
down someone who outdrew you.
i truly believed he was dropping jewels
i’d carry with me from gauche lover
to wound-licker, only now it seems
less parable & more a clever ruse
out of my mother’s hymn book, soot
from disuse sealing only the pages
you can hear humming with escape
songs. the ghosts bang on pots
& pans with spoons chanting don’t draw
first. i don’t really bother parsing out
their pranks from their sincerity anymore.
when God writes my swan song
there will be harps & horns & a piano
with chords that linger for days & coax
my damned & hapless star to stay a little
longer. i ache to be her symphony or even
her maestro, imagine a baton’s wave then
suddenly every knee in the house is bent.
but i’m only a choir boy & not a good one
at that. i show up to rehearsal either
oversharing or crying, clear the pews
before the priest could finish his sermon
repent facedown in the dust still hot
from God making mountains. i hug the floor
for days hoping the lower i get the less
moonlight i waste or even better the more
mercy He can spare. i hear Heaven is full
of harlequins with gap-toothed grins
& razors tucked in their cheeks, assassins
with more bungled hits below their belts
than clean kills. but so is Earth. i know
which one of you said that, i made note
of the flint in your spindly cackle last night
when you slammed my fingers
in the medicine cabinet, but up there
from prayers to vigils to sacrifices
only miracles are expected of you.
you see that star still hanging
so desperately close to dawn?
it’s not the midnight oil you smell
burning but the matter it’s collecting
until it’s ripe enough to explode.
i’m seduced by her glow like a cardinal
& the mirror it will shatter.
when God catches me by the collar
i allow myself helplessness. my legs go limp.
i let my curled palms meet cold air.
Anthony Thomas Lombardi is the author of Murmurations (YesYes Books, 2025), a Poetry Project 2021-2022 Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow, and a multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, among other accolades. He has taught or continues to teach with Borough of Manhattan Community College, Paris College of Art, Brooklyn Poets, Polyphony Lit’s apprenticeship programs, community programming throughout New York City, and currently serves as a poetry editor for Sundog Lit. His work has appeared or will soon in the Poetry Foundation, Best New Poets, Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Narrative Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two cats.