Rita Mae Reese

Ur: What Signs and Wonders

Driving down an ugly stretch of road
through dissolute Florida towns, we passed
church marquees with their flat-footed attempts
at levity: What’s missing from C—H __ C—H?

U—R. I read this at first as a reference to Ur,
the ancient city southeast of Babylon,
ten miles from the Euphrates, the fickle river
that changed its course and wandered away

from Ur, as Abraham did, leaving
a mound of rubble in a desert that once
was a city in a fertile land. Then we saw
a large, abandoned building with a sign

informing the rushing traffic:
“The Center for Hope is Permanently closed.”
In the tombs of Ur some strangers found,
among the gold items, tablets made of clay

boasting of the eternal temples of dead kings.
But of course temples are temporary by nature.
In this world, even gods are temporary. So is doubt
and faith. This morning when I walked past a store

with a sign telling me, “We are close,”
I told myself that the Center for Hope
is Permanently close, and for a few blocks
I didn’t believe it and for a few blocks I did.

Rita Mae Reese has received a Stegner Fellowship, a Discovery/The Nation Award, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award. Her work has appeared in various publications. She lives in San Francisco with her family.