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Wash Day at Le Carmel, Lisieux, circa 1895



Selected poems





find kiss of Yahweh's

breath blasts dandelion doubts

to Milky Way. Heaven!



wait for faith. Some days

the daisy's petals whisper —

believe! Some days not.



worship evidence —

big bangs, fossils, fission, pea

flower genes — purple, white.





Saint Lei Feng*

(or faith revisited)


I have known you

Lei Feng

have knelt

before your shrine

lips quivering

eyes aglow

with candlelight.


You are John Bosco

schooling orphan boys,

the blessed Damien

nursing lepers,

Martin de Porres

sharing a cloak with beggars,

Francis of Assisi

hymning the selfless life,

the children of Fatima

poor, illiterate,


ignorance and misery.


I have worshipped you

Lei Feng

followed your image,

your bones and blood,

in sacred vials

carried high

in crowded streets.

I have seen you

ascend to heaven.


I have known you

Lei Feng

have seen you step out

on Chang'an Avenue

halt the tanks

speak to soldiers as brothers;

glimpsed you

on trucks that pause

at country crossroads

carrying women and men

to execution.

*Lei Feng, a young cadre at the time of the Cultural Revolution, was renowned for his selfless deeds. Following an accidental death, he was promoted as a role model for young and old. The cult of Lei Feng was revived after 4 June 1989 and features again in Chinese public life as part of Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.



Wash Day at Le Carmel, Lisieux, circa 1895

There you are Thérèse Martin (now Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus), in the cloister wash house with your sixteen Carmelite soeurs, your sisters in Christ, lined up around the stone lavatoio, each soeur's image wavering in the glassy water, their half-washed linen (wimple, tunic, vest, underskirt, menstrual rags) splayed on the stone slab; each soeur pausing from the soap and scrub, from washing away the stains — yours, ours, the world's —

You're second from left, Thérèse, between white-veiled postulants, hands on a wooden washboard, sleeves folded back. Your apron's smudged bib is pinned below the shoulders, a brown veil and white toque frames your face, hairline dark at temples. You've a wet cloth between left thumb and forefinger and a wooden paddle in right hand; ready to strike away temptations, beat out the stains — yours, ours, the world's —

You're next to Céline, your blood sister, whose camera is out front to capture your toil. Céline is laughing and almost clambering on to the lavatoio's rim, right hand thrust out to grab the garment dangling above the water on a pole. An older soeur leans on your shoulder, but Céline is next to you. Her laughter wimples through you, soothing the aches of solitude, penance and prayer — yours, ours, the world's —

It's definitely the flesh and blood you, Thérèse, not the Little Flower of church statues and holy pictures, milky with sanctity. It's the frank-faced-child-in-lace-trimmed-dress-and-sturdy-boots you. It's the fourteen year old, hair-atop-head-in-a-bun-to-look-older-for-the-Bishop-so-he'll-let-you-take-the-veil you. It's the clutching-the-leg-of-the-Pope-begging-him-to-let-you-enter-the-convent you. It's the grown-woman you, doing your washing, rubbing away sins — yours, ours, the world's —

It's you, Thérèse, at Le Carmel, with your blood sisters Pauline, Marie and Céline; and with your sisters in Christ — all menstruating in synchrony.

Thérèse, you are home.



Rita TogniniRita Tognini is a WA writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has been published in collections, and in journals such as Australian Poetry Anthology, Cordite, Creatrix and Cuttlefish. In 2018 Rita was selected for the Four Centres Emerging Writer Program.

Topic tags: Rita Tognini, poetry



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Existing comments


Pam | 29 January 2020  

The believer Gregor Mendel, O.S.A., founded the science of genetics, the evidence of which atheists now "worship" as the poem attests.

HH | 29 January 2020  

In 2009, my wife Geraldine and I were lucky enough to be part of a Townsville Catholic Education pilgrimage that included a day in Lisieux. Some of the things we learned from our superb local guide, Mme Laurence , were: * the title “Little Flower” is unknown in France, seems to be an Anglophone product * the camera was a gift to the Carmel from the father of the Martin “girls” . The prioress (one of his daughters?) said she could find nothing in the Carmelite rule forbidding a camera. Of course the rule predated the invention of cameras by several centuries! * The Lisieux district was bombed by the allies soon after D-Day in June 1944. Therese was the only one of the several religious sisters in her family to die young. A couple of (by then St) Therese’s sisters were still alive and, along with the rest of the Carmelites and local people, took shelter from the bombs in the crypt of their sister’s partly built basilica. *After the bombing the Carmel and the Martin family home were found unscathed. The school at which little Therese had not been a happy student was destroyed.

Gerard Hore | 29 January 2020  

Oh I loved this!

Therese | 30 January 2020  

It's good to be reminded how the actual, everyday lives of saints defy ethereal embellishment by well-intentioned artists (though I do admit I treasure the popular framed image of the "Little Flower" that hung alongside the one of the Holy Family over the work bench in my late father's backyard shed). Thank you, Rita Tognini.

John RD | 09 February 2020  

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