Poems and prayers

Ash Wednesday

Last year on Ash Wednesday, I put ashes on foreheads of people walking down the streets of downtown Boston.  This year, I put ashes on foreheads of people in the intensive care unit.  This is the poem that bubbled up from me yesterday.

Today everything seems like a poem

That doesn’t quite rhyme,

With a little stutter in its step

While it tries to dance.

So reflection finds voice,

Incomplete lines and curated phrases.

Yesterday’s death was gentle;

Mortal, remember you are dust

And to dust you will return. But

Sometimes death is raw and frantic;

Sometimes death dons a half-ton of armor

And slices with meanness, posturing and blaming.

Sometimes death slips into the corners and sits there

Waiting to be noticed

Building a nest before anyone

Even invites it in.

“Are you the captain of this ship?”

she asked me earnestly.

“I’m not sure I’m the captain…” I said,

“Where are we going?”

“Will there be enough room?” she asked.

“Enough room for what?”

“For all the angels that want to go with us.”

“It will be a hard journey,” she says,

“but we have to learn to be brave.”

“We have to teach the children to be brave.”

Remember, O mortal, that you are dust

And to dust you will return. But

In life and in death, we are in God’s hands, I insist.

It’s so cold staring in the face of death.

I can’t just proclaim its presence and

Wait. I have to insist on

God. Somewhere.

“But am I?” he asks.

“Are you what?”

“Am I in God’s hands?”

“I think so…. I mean, I believe it to be true.”

When death came through his door,

his faith died the same day

As his grandfather.

A man who left a god-shaped hole behind

And whose shoes not even God can fill.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I just don’t know.”

And even here, at the end of this poem

That aches to be cauterized

Before too much life bleeds out

I have too few words that burn

Hot enough to do the trick.

Mortal, dear mortal, remember that you are dust,

And to dust you will return.

Death comes.

God remains.

Is that enough?

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