OLD CATECHISM

 

The questions in this “catechism” are from the old Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church.  The answers, modified slightly to fit the grammar, were taken from little bits and pieces in notebooks and from lines of failed poems.

 

 

What is your Name?

Dead branches, feathers, bones, brown grasses gone to seed, bits of blue glass and broken shell, the clean white skull of a porcupine.

 

Who gave you this Name?

A brain with legs.  Heads on wheels.  Gonads with hands.  Brains with arms.  Books with mouths.

 

What did these Sponsors then for you?

Made a terrible dream of whales and overturned ships, shifting broken stairways, dinosaurs and demon children that no one else can see,  and runaway horses and trains.

 

Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do, as they have promised for thee?

Yes, verily.  Everything that can possibly be done to an eye.  A message in a bottle without a cork.  A cabbage and a Boston fern.

 

Rehearse the Articles of thy Belief.

Something we thought up when we were in High School and sat in Kathy’s basement with a candle flickering and Dylan in the background.

 

What dost thou chiefly learn in these Articles of thy Belief?

Something that worked quite well before the verdict, before the plague, before the terror of the Inquisition.

 

You said that your Sponsors did promise for you, that you should keep God’s Commandments.  Tell me how many there are.

As many as the cheerful, responsible eldest children who cry in the bathroom alone at midnight while running the shower so no one will hear.

 

Which are they?

Jump off a bridge.  Stay up all night walking through the dangerous part of town.  Pick a handful of random mushrooms and eat them raw to see what will happen.

 

What dost thou chiefly learn by these Commandments?

There is a Green Man living outside my window, pulling me away from the smoky dark building where ponderous music blares and people claim to understand.

 

What is thy duty towards God?

To tell endless tales of bravado.  To catch an edge.  Throw the reserve chute.  Get stuck in the commode.

 

What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?

To provide a place for the soul to land above the reservoir of tears, where light from the rising sun slides down until it illuminates the grass.

 

My good Child, know this;  that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.  Let me hear, therefore, if thou canst say the Lord’s Prayer.

I canst.  It is the cord on which I string the fish I caught in the brown brook under the willow tree on a long summer afternoon.

 

What desirest thou of God in this Prayer?

The ghosts of farmers milking the ghosts of jersey cows.  The weight of snow that took the barn roof.

 

How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?

So many.  Layers accumulated like leaves or laughs or petticoats, or kingdoms and difficult wives.

 

What meanest thou by this word “Sacrament”?

Cooked chicken and birdseed.  A bag of orange, artifically-banana-flavored marshmallow “Circus Peanuts.”   One of those red satin, heart-shaped boxes of cheap chocolates.

 

How many parts are there in a Sacrament?

Three:  poems about when you were a tree, and I was a bird, and we were rain.

 

What is the outward visible sign or form in Baptism?

Dogfood kept in cans on the lowest shelf of the dangerous pantry at the top of the stairs.

 

What is the inward and spiritual  grace?

There is more than one:  There are books for cats, swans carved from bars of soap, mittens made from milkweed fluff, seven letters written to a stranger about different subjects, mailed in separate envelopes all on the same day.

 

What is required of persons to be baptized?

To grow into an old woman who wanted to act, sing, write, but took a job she didn’t want and did for forty years.  To dither, filled with pain and the burden of her heavy love.

 

Why then are Infants baptized, when by reason of their tender age they cannot perform them?

Because raindrops cling to evergreen needles after a slow rain before the birds land and knock them off in tiny showers, echoes of the storm.

 

Why was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper  ordained?

Because the neutered male cat, too dumb to be mean, wants to play with the other male and the Queen who watches him with disdain as he gallops up and down the hallways, skidding the little rugs across the polished floors.

 

What is the outward part of sign of the Lord’s Supper?

A small coffiin carried into a church and filled with water.  A baby is dropped in, the priest pulls her out and says “You’ve died and now you’re alive!”  and everybody rings bells.

 

What is the inward part, or thing signified?

Apollo, by another name, vague and vacuous, one of those rich blond guys who gets everything he wants just by smiling.

 

What are the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby?

A day that stretches ahead like a rubber band that’s been reused and reused to hold together bundles of letters, bills, or an ancient cookbook.  Three Hairy Woodpeckers chasing one another around the trunk of an ash tree.  A jar of Kimchee in the back of the refrigerator.

 

What is required of those who come to the Lord’s Supper?

A pain in your hips that awakens you at 4 A.M. and you can’t find a comfortable position and while you’re twisting there, wakeful, all the cats come and lick your face and knead whatever part of you is trying to be still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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