Bones in the Basement

by Paul Hooker

When I was nine I happened on a boneyard.
I ventured hesitant through the ill-used door
in the narthex of our little church’s sanctuary
and tiptoed down the creaking shadowed stairs
to the basement hall beneath the center aisle
whence weekly gathered worthies claimed their pews.
It was August, and I was searching
for a cool escape from the Nashville heat.
This hallway had not known footfalls in years.
The rooms that once had rung with children’s voices
were now a mausoleum of chairs and desks,
tumbled in wooden waterfalls. The smell of dry rot
stifled in the air. Dust-caked and silent,
mute witnesses of memorized verse and psalm,
they were but faithful ghosts, and held their tongues,
waiting for their time to come again.

At thirty-six I found another boneyard.
Following an orthodox black-robed abbot
I fled the desert heat, toured the basement
beneath St Catherine’s monastery at the foot
of Jebel Musa—Moses’ mountain—in the Sinai.
It was August. We’d just walked down the mountain,
Moseses making for the modern world without
commandments, though clutching golden calves.
The public did not often see this hallway,
but Chivas in its blue bag opens doors.
Along the hall were barred cells, and within them
heaps of skulls and femurs, feet and hands,
centuries compacted into catacombs,
mute mounds of bones, silent brothers,
faithful ghosts who taught the way of patience,
now wait the final dawn of Sinai’s sun.

Lately I’ve been thinking more of boneyards
not as relics but as reassurance
that I am neither first nor last to tread
the floor beneath the faith, the basement path,
ancient hall that runs beneath believing.
In the heat of things, when dark threats lurk
in shadows, it soothes to walk these halls
where other feet have followed in the way,
empty eyes expectant watch from side rooms,
vacant desks and chairs still hold their places,
and mute jaws may yet have aught to say.
What minor wisdom has been mine to hold
I’ve nurtured in my way, and will soon enough
relinquish to the stale and dusty air.
Then I, now gathered to these faithful ghosts,
will wait my time in basements full of bones.