What Earnest Gods

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As a boy I loved the flit of votives
in the lady chapel of St. Denis Church
loved the flashing reds and golds
of scripture told in glass bound by lead.
Yet even then a muted doubt would stir
when sisters called this life a jail
unlocked by nothing except His grace.
Nights I lay awake, afraid of the indifferent
stars, comet’s oxymoron of fiery ice.
Four decades and the chill never passed.
But ever since our twins pulsed into view
I think with less distress of vacant skies.
I can’t say why we ravage the one world
to which we’re born, or explain such poor
attendance at the open-air mass
of the wren. All I know is nothing
in the galaxies we name for pinwheels
and cigars can match the light a mother
pours on a child who burns in bed
with flu. And nothing shed more mercy,
wield more wrath, than her avenging kiss,
slashing what fever dares to steal
another day of school. The void
that gapes as those we love slip off,
that blindly aims to reign, blast
the bright to the ashen eye, is vaster
than any darkness, any blankness,
of outer space. This, or any loss
we face, dwarfs the cosmos to a size
even the small might manage,
like the black construction paper
my son and daughter learned to paste
inside a sneaker box last week.
What earnest gods their teacher
must have watched, affixing glitter
constellations, scissored moons.
What nimble fingers formed their visions
of the night. At supper, they surprised
their mom and me with two creations.
What raucous joy seized the room
as we clutched and thanked the kids,
wildly praised their work, then told them
to sit up straight and clean their plates.