POETRY: Easter Vigil, by Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

easter vigil

From the church’s side door we follow the candle
held aloft in the uncertain spring evening this dead time
between death and birth, treading the pavement to the opened
narthex door, the procession silent as dusk. Our tapers flare
briefly as they steal flame, then settle into small, steady burns,
each a puncture to the gathered darkness of the sanctuary.

The human story—the rebellions, the redemptions—read
in darkness, the light to some a present shimmer, to most
a dim promise. And you, two brothers, sitting in the deepened
shadows, not quite sure that this hushed service is really
yours, knowing only that your time has almost come.
When the congregation gathers at the font, you stand

shifting your weight, ready now for drowning,
your palms moist. How can this birth be so like death,
you wonder, its public nature almost humiliation?

What happens next is water and movement, then into the fulgent
chancel fragrant with bright narcissus, lily, bread and wine,
the celebration of rising, I recall this now as we awaken
each morning to the stunned wonder of how you could be
one moment and not the next, the child whose forehead once
glistened with sprinkled water, now sunk in the baptism of death.

You know what we do not—the lifting up out of it, the first
gasps of birth, but we linger behind you, words smothered,
motion stopped, lips dry with what we hardly dare believe.

What comes after this vacancy, after the stripped altar
and God’s Friday silence? We do not want the cross
the season thrusts upon us. But once again it is our turn.

Our hands cupped, the host pressed into it, the quickening
of the wine, the animating of all from nothing, nuclei, protoplasm—
jellylike, colloidal—the chromosomes, genes, DNA, infused
with movement, tempo, the beating of the heart, the pinking
of the skin, the soft breathing of the sleeper breaking
into wakefulness, eyes opening to effortless light.

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