Good Letters

Poetry Friday

I would like to be a purple ghost / carried away by that kite…

The effect of a veiled statue can be both unnerving and ridiculous. To wit: there’s a meme going around social media right now in which a statue of Christ with risen hands, draped in purple, looks absurdly like Grimace of McDonaldland. In a Catholic Church that practices the custom of veiling images during Lent, you might feel as if you’ve stepped onto the set of a horror film, ghostly specters looming ominously at the edges of your vision. I’m also reminded of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who made art by wrapping and binding objects in fabric. They wrapped statues, buildings and even islands.

The Catholic Church offers are a few explanations for veiling at passiontide–it allows us to concentrate on the words of the Mass. It strips away the externals so we can focus on Christ’s sacrifice. It builds anticipation for the unveiling of Easter, both literal and metaphorical. At the very least, we notice from the moment we enter church that something is different.

But the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is also instructive here. When you see the Reichstag wrapped, you might be struck by wonder at its enormity (some prayers don’t ask a thing), or at least take a new curiosity in its form and construction. Wrapping obscures all the details and renders an object strange and new. In Lent, it might remind us to look closer. We are only ever seeing incompletely. — Jessica Mesman

Veiled Images at Passiontide

A purple kite
against the wall
with the wind still in it.

Above the side altars
with the brass candelabras
and unlit candles,

purple ghosts. Purple ghosts
behind the votive trays
in the vestibule, too.

Only the sacristans
collecting for burning the excess
palms are left uncovered, for now.

Here stood the Little Flower; 
here, Saint Jude—the wooden flame
atop his head still burning.

I would like to be a purple ghost
carried away by that kite.
Some prayers don’t ask a thing:

Exiled king! the homesick,
and the burning.
A fluttering feeling of the wind.

–John Hart

This poem originally appeared in Image 95.

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