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TRUE NORTH/George Looney You've heard the sorrow in the water of northern lakes. The heart is a loon, its stark feathers a compass laid out in Unes any fool could get lost in. The names of the lost are written by hand in a book of dust by nuns who don't speak. One of them dreams, every night, of a bus station. Loons nest in the cement arches. A man who is the only person waiting for a bus says the nun's name. She hasn't heard her name in twenty years. It is a scar in her ears. The man is lost and has come in for the warmth and the company of birds. In a bed in the convent, a woman sleeps and holds her chest with both hands. The nuns whisper in their beds. Words rise. In the morning, their secrets are a lake over their silence. Sometimes dust rises and breaks the surface of this memory of language. The heart is a scar in the shape of a loon flying through the chest. Listen to the loons crying in the dark, acoustic chambers of a bus station. Like a nun, you wUl take a vow and marry yourself to someone who can never touch you. The heart's a bus station with loons crying hymns in what could be called the rafters. There are statues of nuns kneeling in prayer at all the exits. You could travel in a bus from one coast to the other and never hear a loon. You could visit every convent along the route and never find the nun who has written your name every night on her stomach like a holy scar. The heart is a convent where nuns sweat in dark robes and greet The Missouri Review »160 one another with the sign for the saint you were named after. The bus you're on is lost, the driver drunk and crying. You whisper your own name in his ear, say you know the way home. The lights of the convent dust the horizon. The nuns are ready for you. George Looney The Missouri Review · 161 PRAYER AND THE PAIN OF BACKS/ George Looney If this is a psalm, sing of the spine and dance under the northern lights, vertebrae hung perfect in the dark sky, each bone a hieroglyph of light. If this is a prayer, finger each vertebra carved with the name of a saint on your lips. Forget the martyrs. Either they're complete without their names in your breath, or nothing can save them. Remember that everywhere backs move through a world that would bend them all • into signatures of grief and loss and pain. If there is a soul, maybe it lounges in a small rowboat drifting with the current in your spine, a young girl looking back over a bare shoulder into a light that will carve her, turning to look, into a future that's gray and grainy and just out of focus. If there are angels, maybe they're the light in the water. Maybe they whisper to her, and one passes a hand through her back, stroking the spine into a future The Missouri Review · 162 where love's a burden she won't know how to make into something other than what it is. Maybe the past is what pushes bone and muscle around inside our bodies, pain no more than a side effect of memory. Not punishment. Maybe the only punishment is letting the girl go back to her rowing alone. Maybe it's the sound of a fish leaping and falling back to water that's turned her, and not the light. Tell her love is no burden. Tell her there are angels, and even in the spine pleasure is possible, that love is hands praying to her back. George Looney The Missouri Review · 163 DARKER WITHOUT THE HERONS/ George Looney The herons Uft from the shaUow water of the local river like questions not even the grace of air can answer. They are migratory, and the river is turning cold. At night it whispers to the herons asleep in the trees. Stay...


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