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.