This poem appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.
April 1, 2006
Here on the altar’s second step
We stand amid the gold and stone,
The cobbled labor of unknown
Generations their children kept
As one good sign that labor can
Make something more than products for
A sagging shelf, a showcase floor,
Or to distract an idle hand.
Upon this stair the saints look down:
Saint Thomas with full pensive face,
And Patrick with his crook, that race,
In still communion, gathers round
And vouches, though their names may be
Written in no book we have read,
This sacrament is trumpeted
In Heaven, in continuity
With both those vows our parents took
And each baptism and funeral
That has transpired since Adam’s fall.
(So painted saints tell in their looks).
The past and the immortal stand
About us, and with their assistance
We may fill in the nervous distance
Outlined by two crossed wedding bands.
But to this altar, to this stair,
As beautiful as anything
That man could build or saints’ lips sing,
You come in white with ashen hair.
You come on nervous feet with flowers,
A present bloom grown from the past,
To meet me on this stair at last
And promise me your future hours.
This hour changes everything:
In imitation of the Son,
Within it, we two are made one
As we exchange such words, such rings.
James Matthew Wilson is associate professor of religion and literature at Villanova University.