Orange Plastic Shovel
I have come to think that faith is like an orange
plastic shovel on a Lake Michigan beach in late July.
Or like a hair follicle, or a horse sleeping in a pasture
standing up, or a secret admirer writing love letters
but only with a green ballpoint pen.
It is the imponderables that puzzle me. Is reverence
truly that spunky mongrel dog barking at the shadows,
or snow drifting high enough to bury your mailbox,
or a drop of mother's milk spilling and then crusting
After all, as children we kept memoirs of our imaginary friends.
Their adventures. Their private sorrows. Their triumphs.
And as adults we pray with tucked heads and old bones.
We close our eyes and think of minnows swimming
motionless against the current.
We close our eyes and imagine the radiance of washed feet.
And we listen, always, to the whir of the infinite regression.
And if sweet baby Jesus is a phoneme, we dip our orange plastic shovels
into the sand. This is the algebra of prayer. The waves
wash to shore. And it's summer.
Something isn't right. Nights, restless, he goes
walking—walking while his wife and sons
are sleeping. Something's wrong. He sees
it in the pale October moonlight, in the air as
white as scarab beetle larvae.
Mornings, sometimes, the sun throbs and pulses
by the maples, throbs while his wife is cooking
breakfast or his sons are waiting
for the school bus. And sometimes
as he is standing on the front porch his fingers
start to burn or itch, so he asks his wife to make a salve
of trumpet creepers, squawroots—
or he scrubs his hands in lye
made from chicken droppings, urine,
And sometimes when he awakens
before dawn, when he crosses
to the window and places his hands on the sill,
a raw gray-blue light
comes seeping through the window
and settles like something unbidden
on his fingers—
and it makes the skin glow.