Monday, August 15, 2011

Catechism

CATECHISM

Morning hasn’t fully come awake. The water is soft, a peacock blue,
not the deep shade in French cathedrals caught between leaded cames
like pieces broken from the sky. Two gulls quarrel over a mussel shell,
Frightened, the sanderlings run away. The tide is quietly going out,
but still pushes toward me the delicate lace of my First Communion veil
when we used to bless ourselves in the Holy Water font and genuflect,
solemnly clutching nickels for the collection. I touch my fingers to the salt 
and taste it. The sea grass whispers its mea culpas. It’s too early for the sun 
to be so scalding. The Host in its dazzling monstrance lifted heavenward
used to dizzy me so, I’d have to float down the aisle and try not to fall 
into the black specks before my eyes--sins the nuns already insisted
spoiled my immortal soul. In daylight, sobbing, at seven years old,
.
I contemplated St. Francis in the hedges, holding out his arms for birds 
to fly to him, all the loved animals crouched at his feet. St. Francis, let me be 
your little sparrow, saved. The east wind has come up. I hate that I shiver still. 
Immovable marble. The wooden Christ. I wonder how soon I will die.

12 comments:

  1. do you suppose it's the seduction of the full moon, melissa?
    yesterday i was assaulted yet again by the affront of death, of the punishing, meager handful of days we've been allocated.
    (i envied you Catholic girls so, growing up.
    those saints with the un-Protestant names, those fainting altar boys, abstaining for the Host...so much drama.)
    this poem conveys all that.

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  2. Yes, Susan, it's probably the moon. The Catholic Mass was high drama indeed, and sometimes melodrama. Its powerful symbols and liturgy were always deeply stirring. They say once a Catholic, always a Catholic, but I cannot forgive the Church for centuries of its own empire's evil. I am grateful to the Church ONLY for its art and its music--I consider myself a pantheist, I guess, and believe there's something divine in the Universe, in us, but there is no salvation from the 'punishing, meager handful of days we've been allocated." Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Damn it. Too fast. Too fast.

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  3. A wonderful poem, Melissa - so much richness. The rural Methodism in which I was raised has a number of virtues, but such a fount of imagery is not among them.

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  4. Melissa, this poem contains the entire swirl of life! My Catholic upbringing is also a source of (often dark & brooding) inspiration, so I suppose I can count it as useful in at least one way. Although I don't miss it, not having practiced since I turned 18, I still have dreams where I'm late for mass....

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  5. Dear Tim, ah, but you got all those beautiful hymns, the ones Emily Dickinson based her whole oeuvre on! Thanks for your kind comments, Tim. I'm glad you like the poem.

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  6. Dear T. it haunts a lot of us in just that way--as you say, a dark and brooding inspiration. A great deal of beauty, much sadness, but the rituals still gave an arc to our lives. I'm so glad you wrote. I think of you every day.

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  7. Melissa,

    I loved the sensuous language in this poem and also the sense of the metaphysical that comes through, culminating in that last line. Now this, I thought, is poetry ...

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  8. Many thanks, Helen. The last line of your comment has cheered me enormously. I'm very happy that you appreciated my language.

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  9. How easily you transport us to a child's heart and mind, swept along with your nature images; it is then and now. A luxuriance of language, one can feel the sway. No saints, no, as Susan notes, drama in early Protestant teachings, just a vengeful God and no hope of redemption. Could be the source of feeling IT is never good enough? It is good you have created this T.P. niche. xo

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  10. Dear Marylinn, the Protestants certainly grasped America in its work-calloused hand. I just think of the early Puritans and how their values have guided, formed and crippled us. Can we ever be good enough come from those times, are you one of the 'elect' You got that by grace, through nothing you did or are, and if you are not one of the elect, there is nothing one can do to attain heaven. Horrible stuff. I'm going to post a poem by Robert Lowell on the subject. It's like getting a thrilling chill at a horror movie.

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  11. Ouch, Melissa! This brought back some scary moments from those Catholic elementary school days. The wrath of God! "You do believe in God, don't you?" Yes, yes, Father! (Had we a choice?)
    I always thought it odd that we should recite that we were not "worthy to receive you" before bounding down the aisle for the host. How can a child sin?
    "Scalding" is the perfect word.
    My children attend Catholic school, but it's very different today. Their God is a gentle God. They do not fear as I did. But the dogma is still found in the Catholic church. (Perhaps this is why we never attend!)
    ;)

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  12. Indeed, Jayne, how can a child sin? Your children will be unburdened by what weighed so heavily and fearfully on us---perhaps they will be able to attend Mass as adults, as we cannot. xo

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