A Case for Resurrection Sarah Wetzel Poetry

local_library A Case for Resurrection

by Sarah Wetzel

Published in Issue No. 254 ~ July, 2018
The catacombs beneath Rome’s Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins Church
are decorated with the remains of almost 4,000 unnamed Franciscan friars.


This might be what Nabokov meant when he said art

is equal parts beauty and pity—six vestibules

of ulnas and humerus, hundreds of skulls architected


into arches, eyes overflowing with broken

bits of their own bodies, Baroque-style chandeliers hung

of human collar bones while below a group of six men


dead for more than three centuries sleep

still dressed in rough-woven robes, perhaps dreaming

mosaics of vertebrae leaves and petals


fashioned from hand bones, thousands of hands

formed into thousands more flowers and,

in the middle room, a mobile, which seems imagined


by one of Calder’s forefathers, tinkles

with what it took me a few minutes to realize

are men’s ribs. In all, there are five-and-a-half rooms


festooned with what remains of those friar’s lives, lives

filled with baby teeth and little brothers, hang

nails and heart attacks, their mothers long buried.


When no one was looking, I reached through

the protective wire mesh, ran fingers around a man’s

empty eye socket. My hand came back coated


with what might have been dust but surely

contained a trace of what he’d been, his pain

and penance as well as our common hunger.


In the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church

excavated all these forgotten friars, piled

their corpses haphazardly into three-hundred carts


drawn by three-hundred donkeys. Then some

thirty years passed while someone, and no one

is sure who, arranged the remains into what


I have to call fantastic. Mosaics of mandible flowers,

the wall a chessboard of fleshless faces overlooking

a fibula table, femur and shaved tibia shaped


into what looks like a clock stopped just around

the time clocks were invented, wall hangings

of pelvises metamorphosed into flocks of prehistoric


birds as if the birds’ spines suddenly remembered

they’d once carried wings, and at corridor’s end,

a painting of Jesus, his hands on Lazarus.

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Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. A PhD student in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, Sarah also teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome. You can read more of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com.