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Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints' Day

(Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs by Fra
Angelico, 1395?-1455, Italian Early Renaissance painter)

(This month we contemplate the “old drama” that takes place every November: “this disappearance of the leaves, / this seeming death / of the landscape,” in the words of the poet Linda Pastan.)

Yesterday we celebrated Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve.

In many countries, today is known as All Saints’ Day. People take the time to honor and remember those who came before them, the good and the hallowed and the holy, known and unknown. Their stories serve as examples for leading the virtuous life. They form the “great . . . cloud of witnesses” that Paul of Tarsus wrote about in his Letter to the Hebrews, imparting their wisdom through the generations.


The holiday arrives
quietly like phrases
of faint praise
in Braille. Famous
saints bow at the waist,
then step back, making
room for scores
of unknown saints,
to whom this day
also belongs. Not
a glamorous bunch,
these uncanonized,
unsung ones, shading
their eyes shyly
in the backs of the minds
of the few who knew them.
Hung-over, mute, confused,
hunched, clumsy, blue,
pinched, rigid or fidgety,
unable to look the radioactive,
well-dressed major saints
in the eye, they wonder,
terrified: What (the #%*&)
Am I Doing Here? Still
drenched, the tobacco-
spitting fisherman who dove
after a dog swept downriver
looks in vain for a towel,
too timid to ask. (His dog
now sports a halo, too.)
Robed in volcanic ash,
a brave Pompeii matron
is mistaken by St. Catherine
for a sooty statue. An old
coot who serenaded
his dying wife with her
favorite ukulele tunes
is still trying to find her,
as his map of the afterlife
proved unreliable. What can
we offer these reticent saints
who lacked press agents?
Flowers? Lit candles? Floating
lanterns? The nerdy
fat whistle-blower from
the chemical plant
whose plaid slacks
made his coworkers
laugh behind his back
nervously jokes sotto
that he’d give
his soul for a Coke,
but no one can hear him.

~ Amy Gerstler, b. 1956, American poet

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