Ghazal for Telling the Hours

“A candle-flame is mystery domesticated, the profound made accessible.”


The attitude of bodies in sleep, tender and unguarded, sometimes
makes me want to weep. A fist uncurled: almost a prayer.

Ancient epics begin with invocation— The solitary voice, or one joined by a chorus,
calls others to bear witness to the human scene. Thus histories become prayer.

Most days I have no time to sit in quiet contemplation. Ora et labora,
the monastics say: that motto scrolled in gold leaf, itself a prayer.

In Greece, the orologion referred to various instruments by which
the ancients measured time. Night and day, the ticking hands of prayer.

The Horae are the Hours, goddesses of time and the seasons. They stand around
the throne of Zeus waiting to open or shut the gates of heaven: faithful as prayer.

In other legends, they harness the chariots of the Sun before it speeds
on its way; and take the halter from chafed mouths at end of day.

And every morning the wheel begins again: each bead dividing mystery
and work into their portions— barely a pause between one and the next prayer.

For our First Communion, we made white veils with scalloped edges from tulle,
while catechism teachers told us to listen for an inner voice in prayer.

I’ve listened hard, I’ve turned my ear as faithfully as my hands moving to pick up
the yoke. And still I flicker, and still my life is small and fitful as a votive’s prayer.

Or it feels my life’s a candle burning at both ends: fingers try to tamp the flame,
but the wick’s course is anchored at the core. At least let me burn slower, I pray.

They are not always gentle, those Hours that Janus praised. A breeze could fan a small
flare into conflagration— And fire rages with its own fierce intention, like prayer.




In response to cold mountain (53).

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