We buy the pretty picture tickets and escape
into an empty sanctuary. No one's here,
except a sparrow chirping in the rafters.
She entered through a Moorish window left
unshuttered ages ago. White filigree
of old alabaster is chipping from the walls,
which buckle inward; and judging the building's length
on one side, a dozen mahogany thrones
carved with clever arabesques, sit tall.
The sparrow perches on a chair-back, shakes her wings
and takes a nervous hop before she flits away
out of the window shaped like missing tablets of stone
or an archangel's folded hunch of wings.
The patriarchs sat here doling out the laws,
admonishing the will to purify the heart,
which like a sparrow searching for some food and drink
flutters by accident into a holy place.
Andrew H Oerke is returning to poetry after many years in development work with the Peace Corps and other voluntary organizations. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry and other magazines. in Winter 05-06, two new books of his poetry, "African Stiltdancer" and "San Miguel de Allende," were published jointly by Swan Books and the UN Society for Writers and Artists.