Saturday, October 17, 2009




On a Wednesday in forty-nine,
in a fierce mid-morning July sun,
my family is gathered
in front
of Sacred Heart Church.
The bell is ringing as it has rung
all the Sundays of my life;
but, as I said, this is a Wednesday;
my dad's funeral
has torn asunder
faith's firm schedule;
the bell is ringing on and on;
much longer
than a Sunday's bell,
on and on and still on
as if it will not be stopped.

I had seen the thick rope
that fell limply from the steeple,
down along the back wall
of the choir loft,
and then into an anteroom
off the vestibule.
I had liked it that when
we passed into church
I might catch a glimpse
of the campanologist
at work.


Now, on this funeral day,
I hear my older sister Martha
announce smugly:
"It's a-gonna ring
seventy-one times."
She had always been anxious
to let it be known
how much she knew
which you probably didn't know;
she was not one to miss
the opportunity
of a moment's

"Why? I asked.

"Because Dad was seventy-one
when he died. It's a-gonna
ring once for each year
that he was alive."

Martha then jerked her head
slightly up and back,
and then to the left, and,
ever so briefly,
closed her eyes.
This was


Touched that all this pealing
was customized, personalized,
honoring my dad,
I adjusted my senses to receive
the blessed sacrament
of loss.
I tucked into my pockets
the melancholic echoes
of those peals.
I was stashing melancholy,
making a deposit
into an account
from which I might
make withdrawals
for the rest of my life.


Exactly forty years later --
but in the charmless new
round Sacred Heart
that had replaced the old one --
my mother's casket,
draped in a fine linen pall,
stood in the vestibule.

At eleven o'clock
the bell was sounded
eighty-one times --
or did I, remembering
Martha and the seventy-one
bells of forty-nine --
did I merely imagine
eighty-one peals
on my mother's funeral day?
I don't think I actually counted.
Today, twenty years later,
I'm not sure.
Memory fails.

And did I not hear then,
in nineteen eighty-nine,
electronic bells?
Had a switch
been merely flicked,
or a button
pushed cursorily,
to set off that day's
Did I so want instead
for a man to be standing
in some side room
grasping a heavy cord of hemp,
counting carefully
to eighty-one,
taking pride in his
Yes, did I so want this
that I imagined

Did I so want this
that my ears
refused to hear
the true tintinnabulations
of modern times?
Did my imagination take over
to forestall distress
that yet another
had been dumped
into the landfill
where discarded rituals
are bulldozedly buried?

Did I merely want to forestall
an acute reminder that,
while I was not looking,
while I was not paying
certain attentions,
while I was not keeping
the sacraments,
the past, bit by bit,
had been stolen?


My brain is full.
Some things
have toppled out,
fallen aside, flown away.
I have retained, though,
the bells of forty-nine,
and the bells
of eighty-nine.
Every day I
pull them
from my pocket;
every day,
a melancholy racket.

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