Catherine Gonick

Visiting the Convent at San Marco; On Expecting a Notice of Eviction: Catherine Gonick

Visiting the Convent at San Marco

I want to live in one of its cells,
with a bed, desk, and Fra Angelico
fresco, a pink annunciation afloat
on plaster. As a child I laid rocks
on the grass in the backyard,
to mark a rectangular space
meant for me alone. Stepping
inside it, I saw the back of my house
where I didn’t want to be. At the end
of the yard I’d once seen a robin
with a ripped-open gut
lined with three rosy worms.
If this was a building with roof and walls
it could keep things out or let them in.
A home kept out strangers, a church
let in God. I hadn’t heard
of open-air temples, the world
as holy home, beit ha kodesh.
I loved feeling safe inside
this open frame. Now,
leaving the monk’s cell, I visit
the rest of the frescoed rooms
along the hall, peer through interior
windows at the cloister garden. Turning
the corner, I find the cell reserved
for the convent’s Medici patron
and the one for Savonarola, until
the rebel was hanged and burned
in a city square. I am amazed to see
his black, hooded cloak has survived.
Displayed freestanding in the center
of the room, the raven breathes.

On Expecting a Notice of Eviction

Leaving home early and coming back late
to avoid being served
I soon got tired and realized—
home is where they let you lie down
undisturbed. Leave safely
in dreams and return.
Where you hope not
to be woken with a stick, broken in
upon by thieves and killers.

It was too late to find safety with a tribe,
join nomads enjoying fresh milk
from goats, tents with rugs.
Too late for convent bells
rung every four hours to recall
soul to body and the struggle to be kind.
I’d found community enough
within myself, a place with no address
but many unsafe neighborhoods.

Without home there was only unkind space,
body ever alert for signs
of the homeless shelter, refugee camp,
sidewalk cardboard and mat,
all unthinkable till you’re there.
There was only unwanted time.

I wanted my home as a bird wants the nest
it makes by circling round and round,
pressing twigs with its breast
to create a smooth-walled bowl
just large enough inside to rest.
I wanted to lie down there in my robe,
pull a dream over my head,
commune with the patient bird.

Catherine Gonick’s poetry has appeared in journals including Notre-Dame Review, The Forge, New Verse News, and Sukoon, and in anthologies including in plein air, Grabbed, and Rumors, Secrets & Lies: Poems about Pregnancy, Abortion & Choice . She is part of a company that fights global warming through climate repair and restoration projects around the world.