Nicole Rollender 

Empty Church

I used to list my sins,
whispering them in the shower
so I wouldn’t forget any stinging 
one before confession. When I prayed
my penance, I knelt on the wood floor, 
not the padded kneeler, sweet Lord, 
I prayed hard, in the desperate way
I did years later in Chartres’ astonishing 
grayness, where I fit bare knees
into grooves, the marble cold
as centuries of pilgrim bones. 
I knew I could die at any moment, 
lost from grace, but desire kept pinning
me to the bed. My tongue, caught
in the world’s breath. And because
my voice wasn’t made for singing,
I kept my mouth closed, whispered
when we’ve been there ten thousand 
years, so only the invisible 
and their shining heard me.
Something happens though, after
you birth a child, then two:
your breasts leak and your back 
heaves from carrying them through
the night hours. The body becomes
the burden you are sorry for.
I count heartbeats, and trust no one. 
Because I know I could die in my sleep,
as could they, I consider what I say
to God now, that I believe he didn’t 
want to leave his body. That he had 
a mother who couldn’t stop his rib cage
from unclasping him. I watch God 
with one eye, as I rock a baby, this loud
body-psalm of need the only holiness
I know.

(originally published in Superstition Review)





Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Editions, 2015), and the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, Radar Poetry, PANK, Salt Hill Journal, Thrush Poetry Journal, Word Riot and West Branch, among others. She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. She’s the editor of Wearables and executive director of professional development at the Advertising Specialty Institute. In 2016, she was named one of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media. Visit her online at