My Treasures

Sometimes words aren’t poems……. just memories.

 

Forgotten Stones of an Altar Boy

The quiet screamed louder than before,
louder than the roar of sleepy little homes
nestled on a 6:30 Sunday morning……
This little town owned the world – it’s crevices
swallowing all the magic of all that is.
But not on Sunday mornings.
On those mornings the din of peaceful,
darkened little homes roared into me,
eclipsing my passion with such clamor
that I screamed out “This day is mine!”
Every house I passed sang a song,
a sacramental sonnet,
“Another Sunday for us,
my friend, you and I again….”
Their clapboards clambered for a peak
above the trimmed bushes and hedge roses,
so I quietly waved and nodded a wink
to all my friends, those noisy early risers.

That old Columbia bike, with its shiny
wheels strode with ease through
the barren streets of a barren town.
The clock tower of the church grew
larger and larger until its massive
hulk strained my neck to see if
I had made it on time.
Trusty old bike rack quietly guiding me,
Wright’s Stingray already gorged in its tines.
Peaceful day in a peaceful courtyard,
not even the nuns astir yet, their
kitchen light the only sign of life.
Sister Gertrude’s bacon sizzling the new
day into those wonderfully caring women.
Father Hillman’s Chevy terminally parked
in its sun drenched spot, rarely finding
itself beyond the confines of this home.
Friday evenings perhaps, when patrons of the
K of C would shower him with free beer.
Or Saturday noons adrift in a boat shared
with dad and I, him smoking cigars and
cussing when one would get away, like
every other fisherman I’ve ever known.

Into the sanctuary to find Wright already
dressed in his cassock and surplice, pouring
burgundy wine into the goblet for mass.
Odd that the whole bottle should be
gleaming in his 11 year old hands,
given that Father’s housekeeper kept
such strict control, never leaving a drop
beyond filling the crystal herself.
But there it was now, like a naughty
little secret storming into me.
Up to his lips that goblet went and
instantly a third of it gone.
Poured again, an outstretched hand,
“Wanna try it,” he said, no air
of mischief at all, as innocent
as a new flavor of gum.
And there stood I, drinking wine in
God’s rectory, the sanctuary of holiness.
And it tasted just like it did at mass.

And then there was mass.
Faithful seven o’clockers gathered,
quiet Latin blurbs echoing in the
nearly empty church, Father Hillman’s
tired tongue slurring them slightly.
“Dómini” this, “Calix Sánguinis mei” that,
and finally “Deo grátias,” goodbye.
Old Mr. Straight-Finger would leave first,
rushing away before anyone could engage him.
Other days he would slinker in to the halls
of school to complain of kids in his yard.
His old man gait trapping him in age,
a 40 yard walk that announced his visit
like the tower bell ringing.
We chuckled to see his middle finger,
straight as a board, broken as a child.
And the old hag who lived next to the playground,
keeping our balls that landed in her ratty little yard.
Threatening us with a gas-powered pellet gun
for thoughts of retrieving them ourselves.
It sickened me to watch her take communion,
knowing the vileness that lived within her
on all the other days of the week.

Back to the rectory to extinguish the incense,
remove the gowns and head out for another summer day.
But not today……
“Today,” said Wright, “we explore the church attic!”
Did the church even have an attic, my thoughts came out.
Of course it must, less this taker and drinker of wine
should know.
Naughty John Wright, naughty little altar boy
who would meet me back at eleven for choir.
Surely there would be an attic,
and if there was, he would know.
And there we found it, that staircase behind a rectory
door, leading up to what appeared as heaven
to my sixth grade faithful little mind.
Squeaking and sneaking our way up to
a veritable palace of God’s forgotten riches,
the curse of what may come sparked my curiosity.

And what did I find that day,
lurking in the 60 year old
dust of St. Andrew’s Attic?
St. Andrew himself, of course.
His plaster smile beaming down at me,
his outstretched arms welcoming me into
the quiet refuge of his forgotten home.
His stoic face frozen in time,
a masterpiece hidden from all of us.
Beyond him an eight foot tall Virgin and child,
peacefully rocking a babe into the marbled quiet of forever.
Such adventure would normally bring my blood to boil,
but today there was nothing but chill as
I stared into the cold faces of those statues.
Their blank, frozen eyes filled with sadness.
What of the men who crafted these creatures?
Those sculptors and artisans who spent
their blood and sweat to perfect these lovely things?
Were they still living, I pondered quietly in the
dead quiet of that attic.
Had they ever known that two young boys and
a custodian would be the only eyes to
find the strident glory of their passion?
Hidden away, stolen from the dignity of their intention,
these stone people lived outside the realm of what should be.

So Wright and I left that attic and rectory,
him smiling the devious smile of misbehavior,
me pretending to smile along in his fervor.
But late that night, alone with only myself and God,
I wept for those statues.
And I wept for their creators.
Nothing of beauty should ever be left alone, hidden away.
So I’ve kept the image of those plaster and stone pieces
for all of these many wonderful years.
And now you have them too.
Let the things you find beautiful shine
and keep them forever,
away from the confines of St. Andrew’s attic,
and the dusty cobwebs of forgotten thoughts.

 

 

2011 John Richter

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