Odd, sitting in a wheelchair waiting
for a push toward God knows what,
thought shrunk to disturbing new sounds.
Ischemic. Carotid. Clotted.
But when an attendant wheels you careening
like a Manhattan cabbie to a technician
with gorgeous red hair who meets your eye,
you growl your larynx free of self-pity
and rise to lie back for the exam like a man.
You feel her drop warm oil at the skin of your throat,
that scroll of responsive flesh that covers
the artery in question like a loose bed sheet.
You watch her long fingers grasp the wand and rub.
Up, down, around. Data audibly pulses.
Each beat of the heart, it’s said, is future
pouring into past. You listen like a child –
not to thump of heart, wind in lungs,
but to ocean, flood, the rush of blood,
your own life’s mortal sigh.
You hear your animal self pass by.
Scarred by drill and scalpel, plumped by chemo,
my neighbor Tom slumps into a pew,
hands at the shepherd’s crook of his cane.
Our eyes meet before I kneel to pray.
Guilt heats my brow. I’ve not stopped by in weeks.
Born to belief but hardly knowing what to believe,
I’m calmed by the cathedral’s rustling timeworn-ness
and hope that Tom finds solace here.
I think of my father, the Baptist pastor,
who mistrusted images and pageantry
and priests, who believed the truth to be simple
and accessible, who weeks before he died at 91
said to me, “God does not require religion.”
Earlier, I had attended his last Bible class.
“Prayer is beyond defining,” he’d said,
raising a hand as if to touch a thing unseen.
“Beyond words, more like a silence,
a stillness into which comes another.”
Oh, for silence. Cathedrals are built for it,
but I am a windbag pray-er in my head.
Thankfulness and entreaty artlessly tumble.
I watch Tom make the sign of the cross.
In the name of the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit . . . Amen.
A comfort, praying with the hands.
Later, Tom will joke about how long it’s been.
“Everything’s changed. All this singing, touching,”
he’ll say. “I miss the solitude of mass.”
But now we rise for the Eucharist –
rise to the beauty, without a doubt.
Dallas Lee is a writer with a career in various newsrooms (primarily The Associated Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and as a speechwriter and scriptwriter. His poems have appeared in ConnotationPress and are forthcoming from The Cortland Review, SNReview and Mia Magazine. He is the author of The Cotton Patch Evidence, the Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (Harper & Row). He’s a native of Graham, Texas, a graduate of Baylor University, and lives in Atlanta with his wife, Mary Carol.