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Etymology of Sanctuary: 2 poems by Nicole Rollender

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

The northern lights, like a green explosion across the night sky, image by Martin Str, on Pixabay.

northern lights, image by Martin Str, on Pixabay

Prophecy III. Your Time Isn’t Yours

O, the wheeze of the horsemen’s stallions at my neck. White ghost rider—tsunamis’ salty

heave on the other side of the world, pheromone of their undertow in slow summer air. On

the deck, we watch hummingbirds zither into coral hibiscus flowers. Lifted wings, our

burden of knowing time will stop being ours. “Everything is as it always was,” you say. But it

isn’t: My son, once turning in my belly, jumps into the saltwater pool, breaking the waveless

water, sinking and surfacing with delighted shrieks. No language enough to explain our loss

of dappling light still galloping in the garden. A mystic bleeding from her stigmata wounds

warns our extinction. Last July, I stopped drinking after 20 years. You won’t believe

it’s because of a dream where I learned my time was short. “You must change your life.” I’ve

never seen the Northern Lights. I’ve never seen hours spiraling like this in the still.


The Etymology of Sanctuary


Derived from the Latin sanctuarium: container for keeping something holy within. Our malleable

bodies—we’re crafted for eternity—among oleander’s bitter blues. Broken cutlery. Bloodlines.

I’m the broken bird wings in your garden. Hot ornament of my body. Leather bracelets.

Nameless, descending sparrow. If I recounted the nights of my drinking, you might hate me, too. My constellated cloister garden of trees trimmed to animals, & delphiniums, orchids smelling of light. If you could understand, I still can’t forgive myself. Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus: spiriting bells during the consecration. The God body enters my body. A fortress where memory still troubles me. Last blackout: I woke at 4 in the morning, astonished I woke. My mother wants me to heal.

I retry undoing my knots. My God, what did you see in me? One glorious tequila in one golden hour. Dark organs still harbor my terror. Overcoming ghosts that want to ruin me. I should enter

this body-mooring kindly, among new diggings & sprouts. When I say, please love me, I’m talking to myself. What language will I return in? White butterfly landing on my sill, can I inherit peace?


Nicole Rollender, a 2017 New Jersey Council on the Arts poetry fellow, is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (Five Oaks Press), and four poetry chapbooks.

She has won poetry prizes from Palette Poetry, Gigantic Sequins, CALYX Journal, and Ruminate Magazine. Her work appears in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, Puerto

del Sol, Salt Hill Journal, and West Branch, among many other journals. Nicole holds an MFA from Pennsylvania State University. She’s also co-founder and CEO of Strand Writing Services. Visit her online:

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