At the Font

by Paul Hooker

In memoriam, Rev. O. Floyd Hooker, 1922 – 2014

We sat for ninety minutes in the room
where he lay as though asleep
and talked about things he said and did
half-expecting him at any time to rouse
and correct the memory or tell his own until
they wheeled the velvet-shrouded gurney in,
the folded body bag respectful at the foot,
we said our last goodbyes beside his bed,
and reluctant shuffled out to greet a strange
new beginning.

Rising, I saw his hair, not grayish-white but dark,
not tousled, straying on his forehead (which
he’d have absently brushed back into place),
but combed in ordered rows, a straight-plowed field
where, beneath, a fertile soul still nourishes
still offers up the nutrients of faith
and understanding.

I saw his arms, not flaccid but outreached
to drive a nail or shake a hand or bless
or carry a baby dripping from the font
out into the midst of her new family,
or pick me up when I fell off my bicycle,
or embrace me when as now I can no longer
stay with him.

I saw his hands, not mottled but clear-skinned,
the wounded finger sliced by the planer’s blade
in an ancient carpentry shop before the war,
not trembling, but firm gripped and steady
save when he holds aloft the bread and cup
to pronounce the very mystery he trusts
without understanding.

A moment, I said, and when alone
took the styrofoam cup from the table
half full of water he’d sipped the day before,
dipped and traced with moistened finger
above his now-closed eyes the oldest sign,
the one he’d fingered wet and shining
on half a thousand foreheads past and gone,
liturgy reflexive on my lips
that death at last completes what baptism began
and begins again.
[Earlier on the day I wrote this poem, I had heard a lecture on funerals, in which the speaker had made a case for the importance of care for the physical remains of the deceased. While I’m not sure I altogether agree with him, it did get me thinking about the corporeality of the experience of my father’s death, and the relationship between the body and the Sacraments. I hope this poem both conveys that sense of corporeality and suggests something of that connection.