Via Sacra

I was buried beside an olive tree
with a lamp, three figs, and a loaf of bread.
I was never a mother, nor a wife,
my duties conferred to the sacred flame
to attend the vestal hearth in winter,
to bless the Tiber’s water with my palms,

and then relieve the burning in my palms.
The Sacred Way is just beyond this tree,
where my lovers visit every winter
to share my memory with leavened bread
and hold their blackened fingers to a flame.
I was never destined to be a wife

they knew they could not take me as a wife:
the random lots were held against my palms
and made my fingers curl into a flame
then open as a blossom on a tree.
My mother wept; my father gave me bread.
We walked to an empty house in winter

just beyond the Sacred Way in winter,
my dowry paid in full– not as a wife
but rather as a holy child, whose bread
had crumbled to ashes between her palms;
I watched him pass under the olive tree
bending low, as a hand cupped to a flame,

his body disappearing like a flame.
All the days of my twentieth winter
were marked through every season on this tree:
proscribed from vagaries of man and wife,
I rubbed its soothing oil between my palms
and gazed from windows when we made the bread,

when I crushed the grain into flour for bread.
I pressed bellows, bearing the oven’s flame
to watch the bodies grow between my palms,
rising from dust, hardening in winter.
I was never destined to be a wife,
to be embraced by lovers near this tree

or kiss their palms, which hold the leavened bread
before an olive tree; or lift a flame
to see their winter eyes expect a wife.