Religious Studies

for Carl Ridd, 1929 – 2003


His orange sweater damaged your hearing

it was that loud. Outside the

diesel of Greyhound buses and plebes

too poor to fly. The night class an island

of photocopies and foreign places,

his optimistic stacks of handouts.    


And on the board this tall man drew a melancholy

stick figure, a zombie who could not hear.

The city roared

on Portage Avenue. Hell is other 


people as usual. One student,

a young Catholic woman of mien sorrowful

and jeans tight, complexion poor, from a house

in the North End where they still spoke Polish,

wrote a love letter to every single man

in that class — including me.


The loneliest bachelor in Winnipeg

called her. My lies about love

unspoken but seductive, they brought 

no sorrow on my tongue. Years later        

my tall professor heard me say        


I see myself confined, 

an economic unit. But you’re free 

he said. I did not believe him, instead

pictured the spot where Dostoevsky learned

about a plot to murder his father.

The knowledge of violence is sorrow:


drag yourself to work again,

a production carcass they call it 

in meat packing. Dead subjects do not choose. 


My teacher could have gone to Milwaukee

and played basketball with other tall men.

But he heard God or Beethoven, whose damaged

hearing pictured angels in Vienna.


He died quickly of cancer.

Someone heard the angels cry.

I heard only myself.

Maurice Mierau’s non-fiction book, Detachment: An Adoption Memoir, will appear with Freehand in fall 2014. The poems here are from Six, which will be out in 2015 with Palimpsest. Mierau edits the online magazine The Winnipeg Review.