A Band of Hair Beneath the Veil

Faith you can touch Seventy tons of Bernini
Stone caskets of priests underfoot
Peter poured into bronze his right toes
worn away by the kisses of the faithful
Only the blessed Mother
and her child
elude you here separate
protected now from maniacs

There is no doubt says a nun from New Zealand
It is Peter who is buried there
You want to believe this woman
this nun
I stop on the street
when I see she is carrying an English guidebook
She is no zealot
I don’t know what the hell they think
they’re looking at
waving her hand benignly in the direction
of a passing
Italian couple
It must be the way I’m dressed Their nuns
are so rigid but they do look beautiful
don’t they all in black to the ground
I’d never look that good

The nun from New Zealand
is not dressed for bending
Her blue habit stops
below her knees and she shows a band of hair beneath
her veil
When she walks with me out of the square
a young Italian eyes her calves and whistles
He does not think she hears him missing
the sledgehammer stare
It is the custom here
But she turns away unhappy
Like the Pieta behind glass
she remains always at arm’s length

Questions and Answers

What inspired “A Band of Hair Beneath the Veil”?

The poem hinges upon a true story: the nun described (a very worldly figure) seemed wonderfully out of place. I had to write about her.

What poetic techniques did you use in “A Band of Hair Beneath the Veil”?

The poem’s movement from journal entry to poetry meant that I needed to play with the line, keeping the original prose form alive but also showcasing the central image.

This poem “A Band of Hair Beneath the Veil” originally appeared in Italian-Canadian Connections. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 106 (Autumn 1985): 30-31.

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