Rite of Passage

He arrives right on time.
When he steps out of the car
I am momentarily taken aback
by the formality of his long charcoal robe,
and the silliness of his pointy black hat.
Good morning Father.’
The misnomer reluctantly
rolls off of my tongue.

Are you one of the twelve?’ he asks me.
I flash for a moment
on that famous painting
of the apostles at a table.
If I were one,
I’d likely be Thomas,
or perhaps, the one who spills the salt.
No, I married one of the twelve.’ I reply,
the youngest.’
As if birth order were relevant today.

I walk him into the house
and politely hand him off
to the big baby of the bunch,
my catholic husband,
who leads the cloaked stranger
to the back room,
where number three in line
is lying,
in a hospital bed.

Her small sickroom is already
close and cramped,
so I, the unbeliever,
step outside.
The midsummer flowers are in full bloom,
every leaf is at its peak of greenness,
and the sky is clearer and bluer
than it has been
in several heavy, hazy days.

I gently rock on the patio swing,
swaying in the warm July breeze.
I hear a train in the distance,
and think of Manhattan,
just across the river,
a world away.
A charcoal gray catbird lands
on the arm of the swing,
cocks its funny little black capped head,
and sizes me up, tentatively, doubtfully.
He hops off and perches
on a thin wiry branch
of a white chiffon hibiscus shrub.
He lets out a call,
like a kitten mewing,
or a distant baby crying.
And then flies away.

the intercessor
in the curious black hat
recites his well rehearsed words,
as he serves up the salvation
of body and of blood,
and administers the last
human rite of passage.

It’s only a matter of time now.
It has always been a matter of time.

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