The Invention of Pretzels

In 610 A.D. monks in Southern France shaped strips of dough to look like a little child's arms folded in prayer. (The People's Almanac, 1975)

I imagine it November, the hills
where the goats graze, stony cold.
You had come from the sty, hands
knotted as the crucifix tucked
in an incense-heavy, muddy gown,
hem chewed by constant trek to well,
to chapel floor with knee-worn dips,
to the small dark room where grain
sleeps the winter out. Brother Dominic
had rung the bell for prayer,
the young boys there, scarves loose,
plaintive songs offering steamy
ghosts in double rows. Brother Pierre
was preaching "until the Lord cometh,"
but the waiting had gone slack
as fish line in those nimble eyes,
weary of word, straw sleep,
of waking to hot water and meal.

You must have sensed those thin
bladed backs, that sinewy need,
wondered how to craft a prayer
to carry them on frozen paths, wrap
chaffed days in woolen buntings,
scatter the wolves of boredom prowling.
You felt Christ's gnarled hand, then
left the droning chamber, stoked
the oven fire from smoke to blazing.
You rolled the stones of faithful
knuckles in thick, new dough, folded
those young hands in pliant prayer,
the fingers plump and curled over,
to baking set, to rise and brown
in even rows a fragrant spell.

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