The Altar Boys

Holy Name Church, Marcus, Iowa

 My dad hasn’t served Mass in a few years, but he did for quite awhile. I went with him once when he served and remember how touching it was to watch these two old men serve Mass, to remember that they had served so very long ago as young boys.

You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever.

Exodus 12:24

The Altar Boys
Monday morning sky shoulders leaden gray
as late November winds scourge leftover leaves,
and the faithful make their way to daily Mass.

Inside, scattered widows, a few married pairs
dot vacant pews shared with ghost families.
They touch beads, whisper their mysteries.

Sacristy glows as two altar servers collect
cruets, pour wine and water, count hosts, fold
linens, lay out a priest’s cassock and surplice.

In years past these helpers were school boys
who bid their time, then raced down the street
and slipped into school right before last bell.

But today’s waiters carry years up altar steps,
seven decades behind one, eight for the other.
Flaming tapers tremble in gnarled hands.

Those scattered in pews wince each time
the servers genuflect to a canon that requires
every knee bend, no matter how shattered.

They serve with noble purpose knowing how
shadows wait to swallow them. When one nods
during the Gospel, the other nudges his arm.

After Sanctus bell rings – once, twice, thrice –
their bony fists tap still beating hearts,
as a chalice lifts to the mouth of one more day.

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