POEM: Ash Wednesday
Without the trace of any guilt,
Without the grace of a second thought –
Undressing with celestial sheen that reflected off the lazy hills
In what could called be a cleansing heat -
Transfiguring as it brutalized early morning.
The crippled and the paralyzed watched
The spectacle: tongues of fire in the yawning sky
Bound all in the solid disbelief -
Like the collective sadness of this world
Gathered like a laundry bundle,
Left to burn before these witnesses,
Anointed in the chrism of the smoke
That the burning wood of pianos releases -
Or the disintegration of fibrous quilts -
Of the farewell sung by silent song books,
Never to be sung again –All lost,
In the rivulets of streaming water
From thick armed lengths of fire hose,
In the grime of smoke and moisture that was
Etched into every firefighter's hardened face -
That little church burned with so much muscle
But also with the grace of floating ash
That rides so fragile on morning country sunlight -
Escaping as if its very soul was ascending to heaven.
It was passage - from one form into another -
A deathbed, where they waited for that moment
When spirit leaves body to be left with just the clay
And bone and minerals and ash from which everything began.
And was it ever so beautiful, too.
It was a feckless heat, melting even
The nails that held the wood snug as skin
To the upright studs;
A heat that popped glass like fractured ice -
Took everything until it had nothing left to burn
But the smell of black
And its charcoal frame
And the smoky quiet winter cold.
In the silence, even the hills offered up sympathy
As they cradled the little church like their only Son
Pulled down from that cross, sagging and draped
Over wooded slope in primal grief –
Over matronly hills, this shattered Sunday morning
Surrounded by all her children, in tattered disbelief.