The Preacher*


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).