Original poem reprinted online here: "St. Joseph, Abscondus" by Robert Gibb
Originally read: June 30, 2013
More information about the Poet: Robert Gibb
It wasn't until I read his bio on wikipedia that I found out he's from Homestead, Pennsylvania. That would make sense for the first stanza. However, I wonder, did I need to know that Homestead is where he's from for this poem. No not really. "Homestead" is precise of a place which contrasts the religious imagery in the poem.
Past me wrote that the poem's structure was in tercets (up until the end) and this plays a part in the discussion of religion and place.
In the first stanza, presents the disappearance of the saint, "He's missing from the only kind of heaven / We have left in Homestead" -- the abscondus in the title refers to his disappearance as well. And as if to eulogize him, the speaker takes the name of Saint Joseph, and describes him as a, "plate-headed saint / Who stood sentinel above Saint Micahels's,"
Note the initial description of "plate-headed" which is material based. The concept will come up further in the poem. Yet, on the second stanza, the description of St. Joseph continues, "Dozing on duty through the great dismantling / of the mills, and then that of the congregation," Note how the description of St. Joseph shows him being lackadaisical as everything and everyone leaves -- but he does his job theoretically, St. Joseph watches like sentinel, but doesn't interfere. Yet, "The days of solemn supplication piling up." Who is the one asking for what? To me, it's more of someone asking St. Joseph or rather anyone to do something. The line opens up the poem to go beyond Saint Joseph.
"The diocese has been busy cutting losses ever since, / Saint Mary's the first to close, her biblical picture / Windows sold as well as the copper downspouts" I feel this stanza is self explanatory in regards to what is happening -- no congregation, no money, no need for churches. However, the implications behind these actions are here "abscondus." It's not the lack of faith (that's apparent) rather, like Saint Joseph, the monetization descriptors come in. Yes, I know this stanza is about a church and not the actual Saint, but the description forces the image rather the action. So far, the saints have been nothing more than images in which they are unable to do anything and are worth what they can be sold for.
"The basement now mosaiked with mold, / To which negligence you can add Saint Michael's, / Boarded up, its statue missing as if derelict." Now here's the interplay between the trinity of Saint Joseph, Saint Mary, and Saint Michael. All are introduced in the poem as objects -- descriptions for images. And at the end of the poem, these saints are sold, or neglected, or looked upon as lazy -- not only by the speaker but by a "congregation" that has left. However, the poem doesn't end here -- the "either/or" dynamic comes into play (where the second half of the "or" is the more important out of the two)
"Or salvaged from the masthead of the wreckage." The reference to a sunken ship. Here, the speaker is stating that something or someone could salvage these images, and perhaps the saints. Or perhaps the most important part of this last line is the word "wreckage" -- a word which implies a destruction and, in the case of the poem, is caused by multiple saints, and multiple people leaving.