A house looks fine from the other side of the street.
Maybe a little paint peeling round the window panes.
On the sunlit side of curtains drawn
you cannot see the squalor:
rooms in disarray, doors left ajar
by robbers come and gone,
black mold advancing up the baseboards,
dim, damp air heavy with remorse.

Nobody looks at the skirt of a cassock.
Elderly wax-stains, and worse, kiss holy ground.
The towel for the priest’s ablutions
is used for a week, then discarded
into the purgatory of a spin cycle on high.

Peace is a precious and a passing thing,
like cleanness, or a well-ordered home,
and she is stalked by one who hates,
who slips in by an unlocked door
to rage, rampage, overturn the furniture—
more than just a violent and unwanted rearrangement,
a reminder:
one is never quite secure.

But the worst is not the robbery.
The worst is the aftermath, days or hours
spent keeping up appearances: every door and window
shut tight against the sun,
the air inside dull, languid,
lifeless: spark stolen,
leaving nothing now but a slow
and irreversible
decay.

Sometimes I pray for Him to be gentle with me.
More often I say: crash into me and break me!
In your mercy wound me!—burn me up in love!
After all, what housekeeper is gentle with ceiling rot?
What sacristan with stubborn stains?
Water alone is not enough to cleanse the sins in me!—
No, not water only, but water, and fire, and blood!—

Yet He is gentle.
The robber darkens every doorstep,
prowls under every window,
waiting for the least opening
to rape and ravage and devour—
But the shepherd, ah! He calls,
stands at the door and knocks
as long as it takes (He knows I am ashamed)
until at last I timidly let Him in.
And He sets about at once
opening the curtains, letting in the light,
setting the furniture right,
and chopping vegetables, I imagine, for stew:
a hearty meal to share, with a hearty hug
and a tender look of love.

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