March 22, 2020
The deaths are mounting, far across the water.
And here, the sages of the internet
Equate this hour with the rule of Stalin,
As, first, New York, then California, call
For each to make a gulag of his room.
The rumors say that martial law is coming.
But we sleep late. There is no Mass today.
The pastor of St. Monica says his,
On our behalf, within a cage of silence.
When all the kids are at the breakfast table,
Their cereal bowls cleaned, save a splash of milk,
A sodden flake or two that cleave the side,
I pull my missal out to read the Mass.
“You see and hear this all your life,” I say.
“This morning, we’ll go slow, so you can learn
What each part’s called. You know that Jesus is
The Word of God, and so, at first, we hear
That Word, receive it by our ear through scripture.
But in the second part, we do not listen;
No, we receive the Word upon our tongue.”
Thomas’s fingers fiddle with his puzzle,
A map of the United States, and flip
Out Arkansas upon the floor, while Livia
Keeps eying manga girls that she’s been drawing,
Which, lithe in fashion gowns, sport doctors’ masks.
“This morning we will hear the Word of God,”
I say, “but cannot eat it.” And we do.
We read of Jesus bending to the ground,
And mixing dirt with spit into a clay
To heal the man who has been blind from birth.
When that’s all done, the Pharisees complain.
And both the blind man and his parents cower,
Afraid the miracle might break the Sabbath,
Until dismissed and sent back to their home.
We finish, and I think of that old painting
O’Kelly did, a Connemara Mass
Said in a thatch-roofed cottage, where the priest
Is making final blessing over the heads
Of those who crowd in prayer on soiled knees.
A woman bends still lower, to the dirt,
As if she’s desperate with some cry for mercy.
Two altar candles shed a holy glow
On this great mystery performed in secret.
Later that day, while strolling past the table,
Meaning to put a pot of coffee on,
I see that Livia has gowned her figures
In dark and heavy cloaks and sketched in plague masks,
With bent proboscis, rounded, blackened eyes,
And, rising from one stiff-clawed leather glove,
A long staff aimed to point out where we suffer.
-James Matthew Wilson