I am your desired guest in funeral parlors, and at wakes
(but not birthday parties or happy hour)

You call for me in the darkened hospital room when the time is near
(but not after the brightwashed relief of the benign biopsy)

You sit in my parlor and polish your face with tear-soaked hands
Or simply sit, gathering strength in sanctuary and silence

You never want me without needing me
And I am there.
Yet you like me in all the wrong rooms

In the right rooms, I am regarded with dread
Such as a restaurant’s dining room
(should I enter one for lunch)

I know you too well.

And I know that you like me most of all
In this room (no larger than a box).
This lace lattice of time-hardened mahogany
Polished by generations of elderly women
With lemon oil and reverent hands

It separates us
It makes our intimacy possible

In this room
You tell me about the hand raised
In rage
You tell me about the head bowed
In despair
You tell me about taking off the ring
In a distant town
You tell me about the baby

You like me most of all
In this room (no larger than a box)
Where I eat your sins
In silence and forgiveness
And you leave light
And I sit heavy.

It is hard work to know your hearts
And the darkness more than the light
If that was your job, you would be grateful for faith
If that was your job, you would nevertheless wish

To be welcome in the right rooms
The ones with the bright faces and clean hearts
With laughter and raucous joy
Of familial peace and quiet contentment

More often
Than not.

For Father Mark, who actually bore up under the stares and dread and bad attitudes of the general public with very good grace and humor every time we went out for lunch at the Chinese place or to Taco Bell for a big iced Coke - we were both students at an ecclesiastical Latin summer school which turned out to be run by the Opus Dei, much to our mutual dismay. I had never imagined how difficult and lonely it might be to wear the collar, until I found out by association how the public reacts to it.