Gaunt and severe as the gaze of any elder,
From a kirk like the one I knew
This pew now in a suburban house
Is jetsam and relic.
Aloof, it forbids use,
An unbending Presbyterian.
Captive, bearing mute witness
To a frivolous, ungodly people.
Its wood rubbed by work—
Devotion, faith, supplication, doubt.
Too hard for ease
This seat had to be endured.
Its first lesson: still the body.
This hardness then harness
For the collar-proud soul but then
It ached: all those hours! Wasted hours!
Words hammering down, over, upon us,
Pleading, exhorting, bullying a congregation
While light fired the memorial window
And broke in spattered pattern across the aisle.
All those hymns, sermons, prayers!
And I remember hands clasping the edge
Of the pews—mostly dairy-farmer’s,
Fingers thick as teats,
Misshapen from the ever-bawling hunger
Of cows and calves.
So used to weight their hands were useless
Here in the weightlessness of prayer.
Thick with the smell of their cows
And Old Spice I remember backs,
Hunched like boulders,
The cloth of their jackets straining,
Some breathing hard, as if from work,
The Word working in their mouths like cud,
As they buckled to the hard task of silence.