Silence inside the cold edifice,
_ _ household of the word,
_ _ sailing ship of the spirit.
A winding path leads up to a door
_ _past red-berried holly, clipped yew,
_ _ marble and granite slabs standing upright,
_ _ names mossy, dates neglected.
The stonecutter’s hand, the woodcarver’s
_ _chisel and mallet
_ _ cut crockets and quatrefoils,
legends of martyrdom, a saintly rabbi nailed to a cross.
_ _ Everything we believe or don’t believe or half-believe
or once believed or aren’t quite sure about
_ _floats in this enclosed air.
A jar is broached, an amphora of scented oil.
_ _A woman laves
_ _with Aramaic hands
feet dusty from Galilean roads
_ _—the words of her story echoing in
the language of gnostics and empire-builders.
But she doesn’t hear any of this.
She kisses the man’s feet, her tears falling for all time.
_ _She dries them with her hair.
And so, with a whiff of scent,
_ _a whish of seersucker,
_ _we open our little books and kneel.
Richard Tillinghast has published twelve books of poetry and five of creative nonfiction. His most recent nonfiction publication is Journeys into the Mind of the World: A Book of Places (University of Tennessee Press, 2017). He lived in Ireland for six years before moving back to the U.S. in 2011. He now divides the year between Hawaii and Tennessee. (updated 4/2020)