Friday, 5 March 2021


Custody of the Eyes

by Jan Ball

Breathing heavily, she furtively
wraps her fingers around the bindings   
of two books from the stacks at Alverno
College, Milwaukee, where she is
studying while a second year novice
in the Mother House on Layton Boulevard.

She presses the titles against the crucifix
that hangs on her chest, as lovingly
as she used to hold her infant nieces
and nephews—Wuthering Heights
and Rousseau’s Emile—both books
recommended by lay teachers in her classes
and approved by her novice mistress
as educational enough for an exception.

When she checks the books out
at the circulation desk, she keeps
custody of the eyes, looking down
at the floor or she might glow
like the phosphorescent poster
of a prayer she kept in her bedroom
before entering the convent,
so thrilled to read a book besides
the psalms in her breviary,
beautiful as the ancient words are:
As the deer thirsts for running water,
  so my soul is thirsting, for you, my God,

as well as spiritual reading, and textbooks:
        How to Write an Essay or History
                 of the Ancient World.

Once back at the convent, she covers
the books with brown paper as Sister
Archelaus suggests so no one can see
the forbidden fruit or guess the reason
for the brilliant new light in her eyes.

* * * * ** *

Jan Ball has had 337 poems published in various journals including: Atlanta Review,
American Journal of Poetry, Calyx, and Phoebe, internationally as well as in the U.S.. Jan’s three chapbooks and full length poetry collection, I Wanted to Dance With My Father, are available from Finishing Line Press and Amazon. She was nominated by Orbis, England, 2020, for a Pushcart award. Jan was a nun or seven years and taught ESL, most recently at the university level. When not traveling, or gardening at their farm, Jan and her husband like to cook for friends.

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