our hair stuck up in cockscombs from sleeping,
we two snuck down to the rowboats.
to gather blooms for our mothers. What a big boy!
What a big girl! they would exclaim upon our return.
till the bottom of our boat was filled to the bow.
And as we turned toward home the rain began.
Then fog threw back its hood and roared; and we rowed.
The waves turned black, and we rowed.
Our thin night clothes stamped with cowboys and stars
went transparent like tattoos
all over our pale blue bodies,
and we cried out, Mother! Father! God! Help us!
was pierced. Leaping and bucking came
a battered wooden boat filled with four phantoms,
rowing and rowing like madmen,
their faces distorted by rain and rage, eight oars
slugging the roiling waters over and over,
and they were calling out our names, bellowing
over the storm, Hold on! Hold on! We are coming for
till two huge wraiths of the lake rolled into our boat.
They hooked oars into iron stocks, tethered the boats,
and we crouched beneath the phantom rowers’ arms
as they rowed and rowed, cursing words we did not know,
as they rowed through the heavy drapes of rain and noise,
and with every hit of swash, lilies spewed overboard,
floating and drowning in the spume behind us.
and the rain went sideways,
the gray-faced phantoms grabbed us up, snagging
long ropey roots and green-heart leaves
and dangling white lilies as well.
holding us hard against their bony breasts,
shielding our faces with their hands.
they bowed their heads like horses, offering us
held out like armfuls of heavy wild bouquets,
– two trembling children covered with broken flowers –
delivered into the arms of the weeping women.
though in years intervening,
there would be at least one long year
of silence, one of forgetfulness, and
one of forgiveness, even so — in that one despond
of fog and rain and waves, these flares remain lit:
who rowed the boat;
who climbed the hill;
who carried us toward home …
the uncles, the brothers, the fathers…
who despite their imperfections,
did not forsake The Heart of God –
that is, a child stranded in the storm –
these souls, all of them, now anointed forever
with the waters from all the tempests
they have braved,
now anointed forever
by the fragrance of the wild lilies
they have, with great effort,
carried up from out of the dark …