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10 January 2021—The Baptism of the Lord

Falling since morning
a whiteness common elsewhere
but rare enough in these climes
covers sights all too common here

and now the world is luminous
look my neighbor says how clean
like life’s washed in bleach made pure.
I see

the Styrofoam cup still lying in the gutter
a lump indistinct and cosmetized like
a lesion swollen just beneath the skin

and dog feces and mud—blemishes
chilled in ice but not repaired or healed
they wait tomorrow’s sun to come to light.

Inside the sanctuary
the celebrant speaks the words prescribed to say
at the font and grasps the aspergillum
dips and raises flings the droplets

over child and parent gathered at the mercy seat
who’ve gamely renounced evil and its ways—
a promise they won’t keep of course or can’t.
They know
it’s worked in deeper than the bone
a faulty step on the ladder
of the double helix of creation

but still the prayer perhaps more fervent now
(however frail) that this sacred aerosol
might scour clean what whiteness only masks.

It’s all we have.
It’s all we will ever have.

Photo by Dawn McDonald on Unsplash

Paul Hooker

Paul Hooker is a PC(USA) minister, recently retired as Associate Dean at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He served in three pastorates over the course of twenty-one years, followed by thirteen years as a presbytery executive and stated clerk. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee (BA), Union Presbyterian Seminary (DMin), and Emory University (Ph.D., Hebrew Bible). He has written widely in the fields of biblical studies and Presbyterian polity. More recently he has published two collections of poetry, Days and Tmes: Poems from the Liturgy of Living (2018) and The Hole in the Heart of God: Stories of Creation and Redemption (2020), both from Resource Publications in Eugene OR. He is a husband, father, grandfather, jazz bass player, and obedient servant of Calder the dog.