Angel of Mercy


by Sarah Shields

My grandmother,
in navy silk and pseudo pearls,
brought an assortment of sandwiches,
sliced and stacked in mismatched Tupperware.

Her sandwiches were not for me.
Defeated and burnt faces,
gray lumps of fabric safety-pinned to their skeletons,
lined up outside the church.

My grandmother deposited
the sandwiches in the foyer.
We entered the church auditorium
of shampoo-sets, earth-toned suits, and dust fairies.

For the next hour and forever,
I kneeled, I stood, I tripped.
We were seated.
The ritual bench exercise:

up and down─up? no─down, girl─
itchy pink stockings sagging,
a new torture.
We stood. We sang.
I imitated the Judy Garland clones.

I wanted the flesh set on my tongue.
I wanted to drink from the flashing silver cup.
But I was told to stay.
Good BooBoo. Sit. Good girl.

The polyesters and silks parted around me.
I admired the mosaic glass windows─
Mary’s facial features, the folds of her gown,
cut apart by leaden veins.

Pages in the shiny leather book
were soft and lifeless as peeled skin,
begging me to rip them.
On our way out, my fingers

skinny-dipped in holy water
and were slapped away
by blood-bruised hands.
Maybe I wasn’t a holy girl, I thought.

The scents of fairies─Elizabeth Taylor’s diamonds─
and the delightful aroma of
rolls and butter, turkey and gravy,
overtook me in the foyer.

But I wanted a sandwich.
I’d even take pumpernickel with roast beef.
A twig of tendons and fingernail pointed
At that table outside. Not for me, the finger said.

I followed my grandmother
down eleven rubber-lipped stairs.
Under high-def fluorescent,
we sat at a lady table set for five.

Our beehive hummed with gossip.
Nothing merciful spilled out
between their choppy porcelains.
Pass the butter, Dear.

Elizabeth Taylor’s diamonds glittered
from a sky of ears─real gems,
ones they keep at home
in jewelry boxes, next to real teeth.

Their mouths opened─and bees,
black with rot, poured into the air.
I stifled their commotion with mashed potatoes,
my eyes glued to my plate in feigned rapture.

Cinderella summoned the nightingale’s song.
She scrubbed, and shined, and polished the floors.
She sang of heaven, and escape from
the sedentary bowels of a holy auditorium.

I ate my rolls with gravy
while Cinderella sang to me, sweetly,
and the bees kept feasting,
their faces etched with stings.


Sarah Shields has been shortlisted for the 2015 Berfrois Poetry Prize.

About the Author:

Sarah E. Shields is an alumna of Colorado State University where she earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Her recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Spider and Underneath the Juniper Tree magazines for children, and literary magazines Commonthought and Cheap Pop. Sarah studied Cecchetti ballet for eleven years and performed with her company across Colorado and parts of the U.S. at children’s hospitals and schools, assisted living facilities, and battered women and children’s shelters. She has also appeared on a televised game show, winning a trip to Paris. She did not see the Eiffel Tower lit up, however, and wishes to return. Sarah lives in Southern California with her husband and two young children. You can find her on Twitter: @saraheshields.

Comments are closed.