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Not only were the largest of the church bells cast
in pits, there, beneath the thrusting of the tower,
at times the earthly founding of a bell came first,
when walls rose above the mold, above the flower

of bronze they sexed with a clapper, then block-and-tackled
from the ground into some hymn or other, some knell
invoking praise or mourning, or both, the chain-toll
for instance, moving from the smallest of the bells

to the gravity of the huge—a descent of sorts
and yet the iconography of yearning upward,
of growing old toward the striking of the notes
all at once, a kind of last breath, a final word.

Or better yet beyond all words, the muscle and peal
that threshes the blue with dire hope. It longs to reap
as it sows, to lay spring’s harvest at our table.
All at once. What sound could be more complete

and yet discordant, unresolved. It knocks the sky
in joy, in anger, as if it were a child that throws
its toy. All at once. And then the long decay
like smoke, the prayer that lifts as the silence grows.

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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