National Poetry Month: Day 22

Another poem from Fire in the Pasture that I heard yesterday.

Blessing the Baby
by Susan Elizabeth Howe


We are low church--a plain chapel, unadorned pews and pulpit,
dahlias on the organ the only image of God. Come today
to give my brother's infant daughter a name and a blessing.

"The purpose of life," says the bishop, "is to gain
a tabernacle of flesh and bone," and I wonder
what my granddaughter imagines, having visited

the great hall on Temple Square but not
the house of metaphor. "He's explaining
our bodies," I tell her. "Why we love them."

But it is a tabernacle, a tabernacle of men
held by the priesthood as planets are held by the sun
who take this infant in their arms. Too many to form

a circle around the child, they make an ellipse. In the name
of Jesus Christ, says my brother, and gives his baby
his great grandmother's name, Julia Brooke Howe.

She sleeps through her blessing, a white bow honeyed
to the crown of her head, the clouds of her dress floating
over the arms of the men who hold her. The congregation

though happy for the parents, swirl in their personal orbits.
A boy lifts his throbbing hand in its cast. A neighbor reads
a novel hidden in his Bible. A grandmother can't remember

where she is or why she's come. Two teens thumb wrestle,
eyes closed. They are all of the earth, earthy. Julia, awake now,
is given from the arms of her father to the arms of her mother,

her eyes ocean-blue, just as she dirties her diaper.
She, too, belongs to this soiled Earth
that is sometimes washed, renewed, sweet-scented.

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