Vigil Operation

A young man with a Grecian profile stands, barely contained,

but quite still, next to his shining black and white PD motorcycle. 

Three massive hogs, labeled SPECIAL OPERATIONS,

three men, there to count. Vigilant. Carefully not looking at anyone.

Two blocks from the church, a fine, early June evening,

eighty-four degrees. By ones and by twos, people appear

from side streets, ambling up and down Centre Street,

carrying only home-made signs on cardboard, pausing to hold vigil. 

Slowly filling the inside edge of the sidewalks, breathing easy, 

each one counts. All there to bear witness in the clear June air. 

The three men are weighed down by what they bear

in the warm, peaceful June evening: helmet, mirrored glasses, 

black mask pulled up over the mouth, body armor 

under short-sleeved uniform shirt, gloves folded in one hand,

leather belts hung with equipment and weapons, shining 

knee high boots. The young man with the Grecian profile wears 

a wedding ring. He fingers a cell phone. He rapidly chews gum,

jaws crushing his fear. The other two men are motionless, waiting.


The evening June light shines on sidewalks filled 

with numberless people holding homemade signs, each one different,

from down at Saint Thomas far past the Baptist church. 

No one speaks much. We clap a little, chant a little, 

genuflect, the sidewalk oddly light on the knee. We all wait 

for the signal, the release. The church bells will begin to ring. 


A small pleated Dixie cup with an inch of Pepto-bismol pink polio vaccine.

A cloudy plastic cup full of bug juice at summer camp. 

A young child’s tongue probes for the last red drop skimming down from cup’s bottom.

Gravity keeps the wine dancing on scarlet legs in the glass curve.

Gravity pulls wet glass from fingers, and shatters it to splinters dancing across the floor. 

The glacier cupped by cold, tiny leaves of wild mint on the mountain. 

Icy mint scented water cupped, raised to the mouth in numb hands.

From lips, glassy drips dance into gullies of grit and leaf mould. 


Mary Elizabeth Birnbaum was born, raised, and educated in New York City. Mary’s translation of the Haitian poet Felix Morisseau-Leroy has been published in The Massachusetts Review, the anthology Into English (Graywolf Press), and in And There Will Be Singing, An Anthology of International Writing by The Massachusetts Review, 2019. Her work has appeared in Lake Effect, J Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Soundings East, Barrow Street, and other literary journals.