Ash Thursday (Mourning Dove and Dog) by Mark Nielsen, 3-6-14
I wake up on a Thursday.
It is not just any Thursday, for a trace of ash
remains on my head from the night before.
And while I am glad not to be rudely awakened
by some urgent matter for the third day in a row,
I am also conscious of being weary, already,
though the day has only just begun.
For from the moment I awoke,
I was set upon by the dogs that tear at my mind:
“You should write that letter today.”
That’s a sweet but needy Labrador pup.
“Your performance yesterday was atrocious.”
A tenacious Staffordshire terrier.
“Never mind all that…Come hither and see me.”
That persistent bitch from the internet porn site.
But I must confess that I am the dog
who most doggedly nips at my soul, and at others.
And so it goes.
(A phrase which makes me think of Vonnegut,
and thus of my beloved,
another Kurt lover–
though yesterday even she was hard to love,
just one more person to make me weary.
But this too shall pass.)
Are we all just stray dogs on the hunt,
traveling in packs, maintaining boundaries,
protecting what we think is ours?
Was I misled in my former less scared or mournful thinking?
Can this old dog learn some new tricks?
And what has made my sister Happiness
so fragile and skittish now–
she who was a wrestling, playful,
constant and faithful companion
when we were pups?
Dreading the day ahead, I consider:
Is this life supposed to be fun,
or just toil?
Can it be fun again like it was with my sister?
Is there good reason today to fight,
to kick these new dogs of hell at our heels?
Or should I instead merely feel the bite,
then bleed, then seek my Mother to heal
this pouting, churning, whispering rage
(the real cause of my weary state)?
Is this just the bleeding stage?
Is it just the bullying, gluttonous, terrified,
insecure spirit of this present age
that tempts and dogs me today?
And where is my Master with that bandage?
Lastly, is there a promise broken?
A hunger and thirst for righteousness,
not yet fulfilled–
a “falling short” for all of us,
a good reason for this weary rage?
My cup doth not run over,
and our creek is nearly dry.
So was I spoiled before,
or is this weariness a normal response
to an abnormal situation,
to a reality less than what was hoped for:
a kingdom not yet come,
with less love, more blood, more toil? And hunger.
And if so, who broke the promise?
I read but struggle with a favorite Easter poem.
(Even He is hidden today,
and I whine like a hungry pup awaiting my father’s return.)
I lick my wounded heel.
I am dis-illusioned:
that I would escape unwounded
has been removed from my eyes like a veil.
I sip my coffee, and it is not so hot.
Yet why is my first thought again
that I have let myself down,
instead of recalling reality:
this stupid, cheap, and ancient coffeemaker?
It just Is. It is nobody’s fault.
Bad, bitter coffee, you are not my fault.
So go away, dog.
Your tag says your name is Shame.
I have no scrap of food for you,
and you shall gnaw on my shinbone no longer.
I love you, and I know where you live,
but it is not here.
Thus I try again today
to enjoy what there is to enjoy.
To look for my food, or my mother,
outside in the sunshine.
I look forward, look around.
I try to be not just dust,
but let life be breathed again
into the dust and ashes of my bones.
I wrestle my brother, Sadness,
(who looks like our mother Grief
but in fact is not much like her).
And this time it is Sadness
who goes away with tail between his legs.
I am still dog-tired, but I sniff the air yet again.
I look up.
Outside my den in the yew bush,
a pale yellow mourning dove eyes me,
nodding her head.
–Matthew Henry (b.1662 – d.1714) – his concise commentary on Genesis 3, and hope, and heel-biting serpents (dressed above like bad dogs)