Saint Michael, the Serpent & the Red Lobster

Women should not adorn the body with ornaments, Peter says,
but in the mid-80s, every Madonna bangle & hoop was a tunnel out
of Western PA. I could’ve piked & dove; ducked, tucked,
& rolled through their glint. Timothy cautions to exercise


the womanly body profiteth little; only godliness is profitable.
I felt God running the mile in school. Only a few girls on the team
had that kind of endurance. Corinthians says women must remain
silent in churches. I never said Jesus Christ watching the Steelers,


but I curled the phrase the Lord’s name in vain, tongued the slant
rhyme of it, how it sounded like sin, something worthy
of a box with a priest hoarding my sins as if stacking crisp
ones. Leviticus claims of all the fine creatures in the seas


we must detest those without fins; & since we detest
them, we must not eat them. The best part of Saturday Mass
was after Saturday Mass: Red Lobster© with its red carpet, hush-
puppies, Ultimate Feast, & the trinity of my parents & brother—


my father, the pain to come; the son he was harder on; my
mother, proclaimed survivor—each distinct but a single
essence, all stylin’ & dressed up after a day weeding the hill.
I performed the sitting, standing, kneeling, & though filled


in the baptism of our above-ground pool, though filled
with thanks like the last stanza of a closing hymn, my brother
& I couldn’t stop staring at this one stained-glass window.
What have I taken? A love that makes my knees


buckle. In the background, a landscape of mountains, a small
town. In the foreground, Saint Michael about to slay the green
dragon under a sandaled foot, every organ chord: not here, not this
We sat in a pew in the back. My mother let me sit on the end.

Janine Certo is the author of five books, most recently, O Body of Bliss, winner of the Longleaf Press Book Contest in Poetry (Longleaf Press, 2022), and Elixir, winner of both the New American Poetry Prize and the Lauria/Frasca Poetry Prize (New American Press and Bordighera Press, 2021). A winner of Nimrod International Journal’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, recent poems appear in the Cincinnati Review and Poetry Northwest.