His first summer after ordination
Was an agony. All the demons
Of past catastrophies festered
In his stomach, locked his jaws
And warped his lips awry.
He stammered at the altar
Sometimes so relentlessly
Ulcers blistered just anticipating.
Yet each day the village faithful
Climbed the steep valley shanks,
Their ragged wraps no defense
Against the dank dawn.
Patiently they waited after gospel
Fragments stumbled from his tongue
Unable to fathom the surprising
Fluency to come.
He spoke only what he knew
Was true--why Jesus sighed
When Lazarus awoke, how far
His face fell when his mother wept,
What touch of sky his eyes
Flashed when Dismas spoke.
Then forward as before he would
Fumble to the ritual's conclusion.
A milpera burnt sienna
Blind and smiling in the first
Pew every morning bumped
Her way gracefully through
The apse unannounced and broke
The silence of the sacristy.
'You give us pauses, Father,
Time to think and pray."
He responded flawlessly,
'And they're all spontaneous.'
Jerome L. McElroy
*Accepted in Jouvert (May-June 1999).