The bell had hung there forever, it seemed.
We came to the church with our children
after years of childlessness—sleeping in,
reading each section of the fat Sunday paper,
drinking café au lait from bowls made by potter-friends.
Sundays were for museum-going,
brunches out with mimosas, omelets filling
elegant white plates, walks around the reservoir.
The gray wood church was nothing like
the brick edifices of our childhoods,
pews stuffed with families,
lines of men standing along the aisles, holding their hats.
By the time we prodigals returned to church,
it was a half-forgotten ritual.
You could always get a seat.
White-robed acolytes, tasked with pulling
the fat white rope each Sunday,
were lifted up on tiptoe, pulled by the heavy bell.
Once, the smallest boy went aloft for a second.
Now the tower’s closed for business, the bell silent.
Rotted window frames, sagging beams
wait for the engineer’s report.
No peals disturb neighbors on the street
where the church stands, unremarkable, plain,
against a backdrop of pines and oaks.
This sixty-year old bell used to strike ten times,
a call to worship, a wedding. On the day
of the death ritual, the bell rang the ancient
three times three strokes for a man,
three times two for a woman.
Sliding into a pew this winter morning
I hear the near-absence of sound, or maybe only
the rustle of a choir robe, a cough, the accidental slam
of the front door as a latecomer slips in.
If it has a soul, the bell
must be bursting with the long wait,
its peals constrained. It’s an unnatural quiet—
its barrel still, ear asleep, its tongue tied.