:: Article

Vision Cell: Santa Fe

By JoAnna Novak.


Do not be afraid. Every Virgin has to trawl, even if it is many years, Mary of tears, black curls, white face. Eyes like a moll. Humpress of pyres. She left for her Marian tour in 1954 and came back altered.

But me?

Am I garbage? I ask in a car in the lot of a hotel that was once an older hotel but will always be named for a saint. Wine before fire. Lie burnt face. Dream, robe, wife. Bore to better bathos. So sorry. There wasn’t a tub in the suite: you pre-booked. There wasn’t a suite in the suite, it was a room.

(I lifted up the bedframe and put it down on my foot. Unsweet.)

These days, fumes are weak, the exhaust tame as filial incense. Windows, though, work.

For shown and seen and seeing, spermed and spumed and strangulated, taken for queso and, covertly, heaps of tapestries in a loft off the plaza, me: a parade of blanket sales before the governor’s palace.

Wherefore others were poisoned: I got presents for my shots. And then, purportedly immune. And needle-squeamy, no worse. Well. Hale. Hardiness herself. Once I strepped twice and won two dolls, Rapunzel and Guinevere.

A sword, a braid, a velvet parade, Mary, Joseph, babe in a manger.

The angel beats her wings and spans 
her arms alone in the bathroom to get thinner.

It is God’s will and grace, the first Virgin’s hour.

Now stub your toe on the altar. Sprain your ankle marching to Eucharist.

I am/was/will be/had been/was being/could be/would be/should be unafraid.
To sit in a car and throw my keys in the snow. The cold blazes. I am old
enough to know the desert isn’t always sunny, but still.

Mess with the Church, you get Stravinskied. Doubt a demiurge, binged with pizzicato. Pope and punishment. Midnight in the garden of priest and evil.

Oh my my my. It was funnier without me. My lover was happier in his own alcohol. Knee-deep in marijuana. Could’ve volatized for hours. He would keep a bloated house, a better house, no bitter wife.

Mary, give me penance.
A hot tub at 10,000 feet.
A cold plunge.
A sauna screw.
Car so hot, hoops brand my neck.

Little Virgin at the Basilica grows courage.
She falls from her shelf like jacaranda.
Plummets like a plum off a branch.


The congregations, the kerchiefs, the anklets. The mantillas, the rosaries, the racecars, and homiletic fat, the blab and the hearse, the chalice, the paten, the relics, the saints’ lank locks.

I am the woman not lying, just living. Flinching. Twilight, I’m waiting.
In a forgiven future, the hot tub timer chimes.

The Virgin would love a girl soak. To laze underwater. To be carried out with the cum-crusted towels like a dead bird.

And yet, I turn off the car and sit a moment, wait on the fog
to clear from the windshield, will a tomorrow sinned by isolation.
I palm the vent, shake my keys.
I’ve brought a room card, of course, and learned nothing
but how to come, sweating.


JoAnna Novak is the author of the novel I MUST HAVE YOU and the book of poetry NOIRMANIA. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, BOMB, Guernica, and other publications. She is a founding editor and publisher of the journal and chapbook press TAMMY.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 5th, 2019.