Prayer to Survive the Glacier

In the little alpine chapel in Fiesch,
for more than three hundred years,
the villagers prayed for the ice to stop.
They were farmers mostly. Catholic.
Placid and philosophical at work,
fixtures, like wax or oak,
or pulpits polished by grace —
and sure,
as German hands.

Glacier is ice, they sang. Ice is water, water is life.

But it was death, too, they knew,
swallowing pastures,
dropping immense sheets like buttresses
into the lake above,
flooding the valley.

Friends died, the baker and the blacksmith.

They buried the dead, rebuilt, sang hymns,
looked up at the spectral spirit
come down to earth, yawning and stretching,
pregnant, rudely aping
the Visitation of Mary,
for whom they had named
the little chapel in the pines.

And it worked.

Their anxious voices rose up,
hundreds huddled in procession,
children grew old, falling asleep
with the words of the liturgy
in their heads.

The ice shrank, ten meters or more a year.

So they changed the prayer.
Now they pray for the glacier to survive.
And Mary,
when the little chapel was dark
and the crowd had dispersed,
sat amazed, sighing and amazed,
at how little they knew
about power.

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