Tuesday 9 January 2024

Three Poems by Isabel Cristina Legarda




I come alive when no one is looking.

I like to wander around old places like this.

I could talk for hours about rose windows and relics –

the Sancta Camisa here, the Holy Shroud in Turin,

Saint Teresa of Avila’s finger, Saint Catherine of Siena’s head,

and my favorite, the missing Holy Prepuce.


I’ve been told I’m an old soul from a different time,

been called “special,” “unusual,” “studious,” and “odd.”

Women who like to read and write get that a lot.

Given the choice between a party

and a lecture on ancient manuscripts,

I’ll take the manuscripts every time.


I love the smell of candles blown out, and of croissants

freshly baked from the boulangerie nearby;

I love the crackle of their outer crusts

as they are broken apart.


I almost had sex in the North Tower once,

but my sartorial choices hindered full consummation.


People often come through my door to be healed.

I hear them whispering prayers as they enter.

I can look at people’s pain without flinching now,

but not without feeling. I am soft inside.


My faith in what they hold sacred here

changed long ago, though slowly, over years,

but I am still moved to tears by Adeste Fideles

at Christmas, when every candle is lit,

and the great organ plays, the people sing Adoremus,

and the thurifer leads the procession

swinging his censer, the cross behind him

held high so all the people can see.


My friendships and loves are few but deep.

My separations from those I love

merely geographical.


I’ve been reading for about a thousand years.

I’m slow. Late-blooming. And what you might call

a night-owl, most productive when the world is slumbering.

I have to lie on my right side to fall asleep.

The gal holding the baby dragon on a door

of the West Façade says I snore.


Before dawn I sneak into the rectory for coffee.

I like it light and sweet.

In the gift shop I choose a new book sometimes

and leave the previous one behind.

Infinity can be measured with my books-to-read list

and the stories and poems I will write.



By day, a falcon; by night a man.

This was the bargain you struck

to be with me. Your longing

takes the shape of talons, wings,

the sharpest eye, the broadness

of your shoulders compressed

into this silent watcher circling

overhead, until the darkening sky

can bring you close. Come to me,

my wingéd love; press your flesh to mine

while I can feel its warmth upon my skin,

while your lips are soft enough,

your breath no different from my own,

its heat between us fire and light.

Your arms, your arms are my soaring,

my sky, my shelter, and my flight.

The lightening clouds are dread, dread.

At dawn, you leave. I watch you bear

my heart away, shape-shifter

with your arms outstretched.

Your wings unfolded embrace and bear

and cover my pain, for it has the shape 

of your wings, of my heart.



the secret life of an anaesthesiologist


Invisible wings aren’t easy to hide in an operating room.

They're constantly brushing against supply carts,

anaesthesia machines, and laparoscopy towers. I'm convinced

I inadvertently feather-dust people with the downy edges

when I don't keep them folded tightly against my scapulae.


One of my colleagues is a centaur – like Chiron

who mentored Asclepius. I also know a sphinx,

a gryphon, a yeti, and a water nymph, all drawn

to the healing arts, as liminal beings often are.

We walk around the hospital and keep our incandescence

hidden, but once in a while our wings and furs

and shining scales glimmer into view, or a whiff

of ancient long-lost flora wafts over the surgical field.


Sometimes in the call room at night,

when I’m by myself and the pager is quiet,

I unfurl my wings to their fullest span – aah! –

one tip at the window, the other at the door,

their amethyst plumage woven out of wounds

of years past, and I look in the mirror and see

my family’s wingéd women looking back –

ancestors and their descendants, whose power

to shapeshift through songs and words is written

like a spell into our molecular selves.

The cousin whose oral arguments in court

jailed a disgusting congressman.

The daughter whose otherworldly music

and lyrics can break hearts and heal them

all at once. My grandmothers. My mother.


They reach out their hands, palms toward my heart,

bestowing on me lakas ng loob, so when the pager

goes off, and I have to fold my wings back in

and go out into the world again, to give breath

so that others might breathe, I fly.

Isabel Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to the U.S. She is currently a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in Cleaver, America, Ruminate, Smartish Pace, FOLIO, Qu, ­West Trestle Review, and others. Her chapbook Beyond the Galleons is forthcoming from Yellow Arrow Publishing in April 2024. She can be found on Instagram: @poetintheOR.


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