augury doggerel

Thursday, August 15, 2002


Today is the Feast of the Assumption, something I wouldn't know but you get the day off work. This year it's an especially big deal because the pope is coming home, probably for the last time, and pilgrims are on the move.

Because I was thinking about old cemeteries recently, I went out to the abandoned cemetery behind the church near here. It looks as if recently (maybe in connection with the Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries) someone has cleaned it a bit, pulled back the bushes, and left some flowers and candles. The graves are like stone bathtubs open to the weather and filled with earth. Planters. And as I expected, it looks like a German cemetery.

I went on and found a soft clearing among the pines on the hill behind the church. This church almost wasn't. They built it not long ago, big and ugly, with a massive sloped roof rising up to the top of the bell tower, which is capped with a fat building-block cross. Then a welder's spark brought it down. It looks as if only the bell tower and the basement were left. But that is enough, it seems. They ring the bells, they meet in the basement under the wreckage of the roof, and they sing.

I lay down with my head on my pack and listened. The windows were open, so I could hear the priest say mass and ring his handbell, and hear the parishioners respond and sing. The bells in the tower were loud from there, just two notes, but winding together. Between rings, the bell wheels squeaked in their gudgeons like an old barn door.

I finished The Tempest while I lay out there, and the masque and the mass met accidentally in the woods � Juno and Mary, Prospero and Jesus, Iris and Ceres and Ariel � while an immense blue and green dragonfly roared about the clearing and a woodpecker worked one of the tall pines around me.


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