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A Poem For Ash Wednesday

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This poem, like several others, was originally part of a larger cycle of poems written in celebration of the birth of my first daughter, several years ago. It seems appropriate, given its confessional nature, to repost it today as a celebration of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. We must remember not to observe Lent as a season of penance, for all the penance necessary was already performed by our Lord on the cross, in our place. But it is not wrong for us to commemorate his suffering with our own season of grief for our sins and thankfulness for our salvation.

Idolatry and Hot Cement

           I.
 I’ve seen death writ small in TV commercials
prophesying reversals of age and impotence.  I’ve seen despair
writ large in a pair of seductive eyes (for will Messiah’s
eyes shine so?).  At Being’s core a seeming misanthropy hides,
or else, at least abides within a divine indifference.

 

And what about Dante’s burning heart and Wordsworth’s “index of the body”?
Can we see Infinity through the window of beauty in the flesh?
I’ve known a woman’s face and figure to excite a deeper contemplation
than infatuation alone can well explain.
The religious pain of romance demands Romance in Ultimacy
but will Messiah’s intimacy rival the satisfaction of sex?
Only saints believe it.  Only the saints believe it.

 

            II.
 The vestmented God may offer His flesh as bread
but I’d prefer instead a marinated rib eye and a beer.
(There’s no associated fear of damnation and it tastes better too.)
That’s not the point of Eucharist?  I beg to differ:
When a mirror shows a common face, it’s a common face that’s preening,
or else what’s the meaning of, “Taste and see . . . .”?
Or can Messiah’s wedding feast be more fulfilling than a meal?

 

 I saw antichrist at a vending station
exchanging a miniature oblation for carbonated drinks.
One hardly thinks that fifty cents (sixty-five now, with inflation) would buy eternal life;
eternal life is not for sale?  Then I’ll settle for a Coke.
For will Messiah’s wine evoke a similar pressing thirst?

 

             III.
 Hell comes ’round at 5 on weekday mornings
And the alarm’s warnings in Baroque overtures force me up to seize the day.
Melodramatic, you say?  But I know for a certainty
That I’d betray the Deity for twenty more minutes sleep.
Judas at least got market value; I just want to sleep.
For will Messiah’s Sabbath refresh as fully as my bed?

 

I saw Lazarus this morning in the car pool lane;
he was running late again, I could see, so I didn’t ask, though I wanted to:
“Why didn’t you stay dead?
“Why didn’t you rest your head on the soft pillow in the dark, cool cave?
“When the Voice of Life broke in to save you, you should have graciously declined.
“Or was Messiah’s command too mightily commanded?”
Will Messiah’s summons shatter my repose as well?

 

             IV.
 I smelt honeysuckle over wet, mown grass as a boy
and that smell I enjoy still, though it comes now over hot black top
and I wonder: when will progress stop its evolutionary grind?
And when we find the Garden of Eden, which Eden will it be?
The cool greenery with naked Monarch sent
by God or the hot cement with a democratically elected President?
(The cement would be easier to drive on.)

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