Hiking The Hill That Overlooks The Trappist Abbey Prior To First Vespers Of Christmas, 1990


My breath pluming white into December
could, to God, be incense rising out
of the puffing thurible of my body.
Up here, it’s impossible to tell for the fog
where breathing ends and the divine begins,
or just what the larger picture is supposed to be
fifty feet beyond the farm’s broken fence
or the crow disappearing like ash
off the corbel of the smoking chimney.
Yes, I’m here, vowed to the landscape
and what I know is there, but can’t see
any more than the next person.
So what is Christmas, anyway, if not
this empty barn, the once carefully baled straw
of our lives scattered and waiting,
star-starved for a nativity?
Today, the feel of snow in the air
—here, but not yet—is also a matter of faith,
as is the spire-wick’d candle
of the monastery bell tower
hidden from view by a wreath of fir;
trees that, by Vespers, will all be Cistercian—
the white cowl of fresh snow pulled silently
over the evergreen vow of their stability.

Daniel Skach-Mills, a former Trappist monk, lives in Portland, Oregon.

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