Grace and the Void at Bateman Church

Rolfe Anderson is dead. We have
gathered at The English Lutheran
Church to celebrate his life and
commend him unto death, the pastor
says. The congregation of this
western church is great faced,
the solid Norse of pink fieldstone
carved, or chiseled black walnut log.
He was not perfect, the preacher
said. None of us are, but he came
to this communion table where
all are welcome and sins forgiven.
Behind the sermon and testimonials
I hear the whisper of these words:
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.

The churchyard was by dry, flat
wheat fields and a west wind
blew. We buried this good man
there and Christine took a stalk
of wheat from her husband's coffin top
and held it. She is strong, and the wind
came up strong. We went to the farm
for lunch after the church lunch--
we eat twice out here--and those
men and woman with their large
faces after a song of grace--Amazing
Grace-- piled high their plates and ate.
All tables are the tables of the Lord
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.

We have sinned, the preacher said,
and have fallen short of the Glory
of God. We have left the houses empty,
children hungry, and mothers without
their men, their hands spotting, growing
weak and falling. We betray our wives,
speak sharply to our fathers, do injury
to the houses of town by taking work
away and what can be done? What
can be done? Can anything be done?
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.

Nations divide, brother hurts brother
the widows mourn, the children wail,
nations rage--filling the camps. We face
our guilt buried deep within our veins
where the winds won't blow and would
like to mine the anguish out but it's an
ore that won't redeem. Our hearts beat crooked.
How can we repent? And the wheat field west
wind says, It doesn't matter. It truly doesn't.

Grace is emptiness. We fret. Are anxious,
rage against the fear of death and the vain
wish to make ourselves as we are immortal.
We encounter a 'Why did he die?' 'I don't
know,' 'Death is a mystery.' The great
silence against our keening is immense,
the voices lost, no matter how high the shout.
The nonwind voids and unwords all wanting.
All is emptiness. The words thin and vanish.
When grace is void, how sweet are the words:

It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter.

Steven Fortney

Poetry Harbor Review, Duluth Minnesota, Spring 1997
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