I guess it’s fairly organized, I mean, the stream nicely divides two hills from each other, and trees grow up the ridge—there’s open ground, and above it a hundred vultures turn like clockwork, black gears in the sky, and there’s a snake, and a little girl who’s picking speckled violets, and, following a sense of order, she’s turning, too, in absolute delight. I just can’t see one part existing, or meaning really, without requiring every other part also to exist and to mean and, when you think of heavenlier things— the complicated turning up there— it just gets out of hand, and now my mind can’t hold the thought of it, like a cloud passing across the sky, a wispy, cottony cloud in motion. Creation does not divide itself— I’m glad to learn that much today. And apparently I’m blind to seeing the thread that binds it all together, and then as the cloud becomes mere sky I think, my God, there isn’t a thread.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
The still pilgrim climbs the Mountain of God. She somehow has not lost her way. Her feet find the prints where they have trod. The sun feels less heavy today. She holds him in her wind-chapped hands. She shoulders him like a child. She hoops him along the basalt sand. She heaves him high against the sky where he gilds the field gold. The pilgrim watches his slow rise— She loves the shadow show he throws— salutes the blue and shades her eyes and turns her back and goes.