Ash Wednesday

Your mother takes you. And the line is long,

and full of people on lunch breaks, in housecoats,

who you’d almost call happy except for their hands,

which in this kind of church pray too,

clasping themselves, and each other, like trying

to feel your way out of the cold with skin,

worrying shirtsleeves, wedding rings, down to the bone,

down to what wouldn’t wear away. Everyone smelled like work:

sweat and gravel, some of them, some of them

foul, the grieving ones, that was work too, they won’t let you forget it,

some of the girls of laundry and jam, and others

like the great overheated floor where they all sew parachutes,

sometimes stitching skin onto silk with the speed of it,

white overflowing their laps, absurd,

making them dream the same waking or sleeping, dresses, Dresden—

—outside, through the red glass, margining

the swanneck of the steeple,

gulls hang guttering,

flapping like jaws, falling wild,

maybe to catch a lower wing.

The only honest day of the year. We speak, finally, here,

of all our faith wants now, waking, in sleep, in dreams—

dona nobis pacem—

—but this peace is the kind that comes, or will come to us,

in the fiery night, when the lion has eaten the lamb, after it.

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