A Great Noise

By Carl Phillips

Then he died.
And they said: Another soul free.

Which was the wrong way to see it, I thought,
having been there,
having lain down beside him until

his body became rigid with what I believe
was not the stiffening of death
but of surprise, the initial
unbelief of the suddenly ex-slave hearing
Rest; let it fall now, this burden.

The proof most commonly put forth for the soul
as a thing that exists and weighs
something is that
the body weighs something less, after death

a clean fact.

In The Miraculous Translation of the Body
Of Saint Catherine of Alexandria to Sinai
the number of angels required to bear the body
all that way through the air
comes to four,

which tells us nothing
about weight, or the lack of it, since
the angels depicted
are clearly those for whom

the only business is hard labor,

the work angels,
you can tell:
the musculature;
the resigned way they wear clothes.

Beyond them in rank,
in the actual presence of God,
the seraphim stand naked, ever-burning,

six-winged: two to fly with,
in back; two at the face to withstand
the impossible winds that
are God;

and a third pairfor modesty,

for the covering
of sex.

A great
noise is said to always
attend them:
less the humming of wings than
the grinding you’d expect

from the hitching of what is hot,
and all devotion

to the highest, brightest star.

Carl Phillips, “A Great Noise” from From the Devotions. Copyright © 2002 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN.