I remember you saying that if Jesus showed up
unexpectedly for an afternoon visit, you would
serve him whatever was on the counter––
chicken soup? apple pie? And you were sure
he wouldn’t complain if one of the younger cats
who hadn’t yet learned the social graces
climbed up the side of his white robe, maybe
catching some skin along the way.
Now it’s been years since you left to meet
the guest of your vision, who sipped his soup
and ate his pie, unbothered by the cat who
gained the table and began to share soup
and pie. Jesus rose to give over his seat
while he moved closer to you for coffee
and you to him to share your apple pie.
Damien De Veuster, the leper priest
exiled himself on Molokai, the most
remote of Hawaiian Islands––
designated as quarantine––
to contain the contagion of leprosy,
its victims’ corpses left on the ground
to be consumed by dogs and pigs. Father
Damien reclaimed the land for burial,
to restore the dignity of those dead.
He and the colony built a church
to center community to replace hope-
lessness with joy in a sense of belonging.
He himself succumbed to the disease
and a century later was named a saint.
On his saint’s day, I bring him
the marginalized from mine and others’
families––the drunks, the junkies, the voiceless
ones, who carry a white and tattered banner
to announce they are coming, like Damien’s
congregants, their dignity restored
by recognition of their humanity,
by one man’s sacrifice of his life
that they might know the value of their own.
Outside these cemetery gates
guarded by angels of stone, unbaptized
infants were once buried, unable
to be interred in hallowed ground
because of original sin not washed away.
Not knowing what to do
that was merciful yet just, rule makers
wrote them into the margin of books
that held the question open––in limbo,
Latin for margin, which hardened
to doctrine of a secondary heaven
where needs were met for these innocent
babes, who because no one thought
to baptize–– even with spittle,
in an emergency––would be separated
from God for all eternity.
Lord, have mercy on all of us
who subscribed to such a belief about you
who from the first and to the last
is source of comfort for grieving parents
then and now, when the height, length, and
depth of your love is present as medicament
for this grievous wound, as you on your knees
dig with your hands in the earth you created
to hollow out a hole the size of love
to receive the body; then do you gather up
the perfect soul and return with it to home.
Jesus, would you say “Ephphatha!” to me
as you said to the man whose ears you opened
whose tongue you loosed so that freed from
impediment, he might speak plainly?
Would you say “Ephphatha!”to me?
And while you’re at it, how about the eyes?
They’ll serve you in any case, but if I could
see clearly and hear again, if I could reclaim
those lost senses, I would lay them down
in this body of mine in service to you complete.
I was on my way in the O.E.D. to ephphatha––
Jesus’ command that opened the ears of a deaf man––
when I came upon ephemeromorph, a general name
for the forms of biological life, which are not
definitely either animal or vegetable.
What a find in this age of transgendered people
finding themselves, and who, like the word
ephemeromorph listed as “rare,” have hung behind
a curtain of invisibility for generations, accused
by the O.E.D. itself and by others of being
a manifestation of the lowest forms of life.
In our time the curtain is being rent, and these
ephemeromorphs find themselves
exposed, not as the lowest of the low,
but as something less rare than was previously thought
that defies classification, and so, control, and quite
beautiful really in their own unclassified way.
Someone is in the house. Uninvited.
Not feeling threatened, but uncomfortable
and needing to know who it is because
a young child, full of trust, as children are
is busy in all the rooms of the house
and could easily be discovered
by someone else.
You! What are you doing here?
Why didn’t you leave when the party was over?
This is not your home.
Your quick smile, your red shirt, your evasive
eyes, your glossy attempts to explain
your presence. Your resistance to leaving––
more than that––your insistence on staying
is as clear as your dancing feet that tap
into room after room as I follow you,
with a broom meant for cleaning.
I grope in the darkness
seeking the lineaments of your face.
My fingers made for handling matter
your divinity passes through untouched
except for my longing, which
registers, I trust, with you.
What then I saw is more than tongue can say.
Our human speech is dark before the vision.
The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
As words failed Dante to describe Paradise
words fail me as I look to the woods
except for the barest verbal skeleton––
trees, brush, sunlight, shadow.
How common. How plain. How failed
a poet, who can only say thank you
for this holy day in mid-September
rife with aster and goldenrod
before the killing frost.