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Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

A Poem on the Eve of Lent

Palm ashes burnt in bowl with dried palm frond cross on top

Palm ashes for God’s beloved dust

God’s beloved dust,
fabric of the universe—
of planets newly discovered
and ruins ancient, broken
and us.

God’s beloved dust,
we’ll walk into wilderness
on a Wednesday—
a wilderness of words
and want
and wonder,
a wilderness for the wise
and the weary.

God’s beloved dust,
ushered from pew to pastor,
they will pause.
Eyes averted
or closed
or resolute in meeting mine,
an awkward encounter
breaking the boundary of space—
to touch another’s face
and to mark it
mortal.

God’s beloved dust,
thumb to forehead,
brokenhearted,
breaking with tradition,
I will say

to God’s beloved dust—
to the squirming infant
barely a month from the womb,
to the mother, headscarfed,
halfway through chemotherapy,
to the wrinkled widow
well acquainted with ashes:

Remember you are God’s beloved dust
and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.

And we will watch and wait
to witness
what God can do
with God’s beloved dust.

Lazarus Speaks

718px-Lazarus_Athens

You’d think I would be grateful
for a second chance at life—
if you can call it that.

The first death, you see,
was relatively swift, and unexpected,
and anyway, I was delirious
from the fever.

The second
is biding its time,
maddeningly.

The chief priests needn’t have hired
this one’s desperate cousin
or that one’s shifty uncle.

Death is not so easily shaken.

When the tomb was again sealed,
and the stench had cleared,
and my eyes could bear the day,
it was back, lurking
in the shadows, weighing
down the air, learning
again our routine, marking
each hour, waiting
for a second chance.

I thought I would be grateful.
He called my name—I heard it—
as if from under water—but I heard it—Lazarus!
But the creature who stumbled out of that tomb
blind and wretched and doomed
was not Lazarus.  He was—I am—
“the one whom Jesus raised”—a freak,
a stranger in my home.

Mary and Martha have been kind enough
and attentive, the way one is
with an amputee, the beloved brother
home from the war at last, drunk
and thrashing about, hurling insults
at every well-intentioned soul
who averts her eyes and walks
on tiptoe and implies he should
make the best of it, be grateful
for what he still has.

No one dares ask about that day yet,
but they steal hungry glances
and their movements are awkward
with the pretense of respect.
Tell us again, they want to say,
how you staggered
from that stinking cave, tearing
at your bindings, gasping
for air and groping
toward the light.