Over the next few weeks I shall
step into more churches than is safe
for a formerly Jewish Buddhist, but
in Europe it seems no tour is complete
without one or more churches, at least
one of which will be the most
beautiful cathedral in all of [choose
any country you wish and inserted here.]
I will take off my hat, for that is easier
than the opprobrium of the faithful,
I will stare at the beauty of the stained-glass,
try, in some cases, to ignore its message,
and hope, beyond all logic, that this group
will stop at a synagogue were all
of the men and women, save me
will have to put on kippot or head scarves
and most will vow it will be their last visit
do such a heathen place, at least until
they get to Antwerp or Amsterdam.
The church is about half full,
which is to be kind, a quarter
of the pews are filled, but people
are spread widely apart to give
the family, to give the priests,
just to be on the safe side
to give God, the impression
of a fuller house, although
it being a Mass of Resurrection
on a Saturday morning, the more devout
are fairly certain it will not count
toward their weekly obligation.
The recessional hymn complete, the priests
greet the parishioners with a smile
that is equal parts joy and Surprise
and the pews return to their afternoon naps.
The dolphin knows
precisely when to feed
when to bless the day
when to swim south
feels the pull of the tides.
Each day at noon
he walks across the factory floor
shavings, and up
the metal staircase
into the small office
its windows overlooking
the shop floor and pushes
the red button
mounted on the wall.
The whistle peals over town
as people glance reflexively
at their watches.
When asked, he says
it is always precisely noon
never sooner, never later
he is certain, for he checks
the clock on the steeple
of the ancient church
set each Friday by the parson
to insure God’s work
is promptly done.
Each day at ten before six
the parson climbs the ancient
wooden steps into the bell tower
and staring at his watch, waits
until the hands align
then leans into the rope
as the bell rings out six times
then he climbs down and walks
across the neatly trimmed lawn
to the small white clapboard
house that sits on the edge
of the cemetery behind the church.
It is precisely six he says
for each day at noon
he sets his watch
to the factory whistle.
First appeared in PKA Advocate, No. 9, December 1996
He only wants to live
forever, or if not, at least
until a week from Thursday.
Important things always happen
on Wednesdays, he is convinced.
He has no logical reason
for his belief, but it is his
and he will not be shaken from it.
“It is a matter of faith,” he says
“and you can borrow it or leave it,
but it’s mine.” He does like
to own things, and ideas are
the greatest things in his world.
He is certain he will die
on a Wednesday, not that his death
will be all that important, though
he wouldn’t mind it so,
but he wants to be cremated,
wants some of his ashes left
in a church, any church, just
to let them know we are all
created in God’s image
and this Wednesday will
for him, Ash Wednesday.
The small church is tucked
alongside the narrow road,
its moss encrusted stones
bathed in the November sun.
The headstones in the churchyard
lean askew, sagging under
the weight of time.
The weeds sprout up
answering to a silent call.
We are here, they seem to say,
to reclaim our own,
and we shall do it
in our own time,
in our own way.
of the rushing waters
of the bloated Dwyfor river
blanket those whose memories
fade from the stone monoliths.
The yew, trunk overgrown
with ivy, stands a sentinel
between those gone and the sheep
grazing the soccer field.
The church is silent, stolid
existing in that middle world
between indifference and ruin.
Back in the house, the cat
curls in the overstuffed chair
preening her paws and haunches.
Giant cranes are perched
on thin spindly legs, necks bowed
steel beams scratch the clouds.
Needle-like church spires
reach through the gathering mist
clouds begin to bleed.
Walls stand in the field
one stone piled on another
grass withers in shade.
He says, “I have looked for God
or at least for signs of a holy presence
but I haven’t found any yet.”
She says, “How would you know
if you saw God, in a church
or in the checkout line at the grocers?”
He says, “That’s a good question, I suppose
he’d look something like me, but
there would be this holiness,
a presence that no one else
in the pews or store could even
hope to imitate, something just Godly.”
“What if God is a she,” she says,
“or looks like the cat I had as a child?
Being made in God’s image can’t be taken
all that literally, you know, after all
is God an overweight white male wearing coveralls
and driving a tractor, or Japanese,
or Somali, or Indian, though that one worked
for Buddha despite how the Chinese
and Japanese choose to draw him.”
He frowned, taking it all in, then said,
“So maybe, I’ll just stop looking.”
“And just maybe that way
you may find God,” she smiled.