Imposition of Ashes
by Russell Rowland



The child, just twelve and yet to have a zit,
comes now with her parents to the chancel
polished rail, kneeling to be imposed upon.

It is Ash Wednesday, and I her pastor, with
my wrinkles and my years; I who have seen
it all, massacre of the innocents, corruption

of the youthful, cadavers once so lively and
so quick reduced to ashes like these: I sign
on Maeve's flawless forehead an intimation

of mortality foreign to the thoughts behind,
to be washed away at bedtime. Ashes don't
infiltrate the pores, or cloud Maeve's mind.

I impress, on the faultless complexion, this
indictment of our race's original sinfulness,
to which she has yet to confess--oblivious

to the machinations and rationales at work
as one does harm, although she will learn.
(I was once blameless, the world less dark.)

Blackened thumb imprints on perfect skin.
Until Maeve does transgress, I can offend
enough for two. I mark her with my sin.





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