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.

I’m not going to say this twice (but if I do I’m going to add more birds)

Be sure in your art.
By all means be tapped out, hard up,
on-your-beam-ends poor if you are,
but when you dance,
dance mansions, parks, chestnut trees
with pale pyramid flowers.
Flex an arm: banknotes
flutter from your fingers
like swallows. Mint motion.

Even your journals grant
principalities to princes.
The huge coffered door of your hall
bends and groans with the press
of secretaries and goatherds
clutching spice boxes,
ranch hands with gold watches,
bluebird navies, teak-timbered ships.
Go out to the harbor this morning
and swing your ideas against
their sides. Send them on their way.

Be nervous if you must,
flop-sweat stopped
like a drowned bottle,
but your hands when they draw,
draw water from rock —
white pelicans,
the most self-absorbed things in the sky,
wheel and rest at your feet,
canyons open,
the horizon duplicates itself
infinitely,
dark for the pearls of stars.

Lack faith if you do,
but your voice, when you sing along,
peals from Spanish mission towers,
beams creak with the weight of bells,
dun valleys fill and green,
dwarf pines whistle and whisper.
Keep your head down:
vesper sparrows have made a nest
in your faithless hair.

It has always been that way.
The monks have gathered for Matins
and the abbot is on the stair.
He has your arms and eyes, your hands.
And the old voice —
the one we put together
from sewn leather, trail dust,
sage, salt, wind whipped,
like a prayer —
lifts, hums, moves
the whole goddamn building
from the rafters to the crypt.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.