Blessing of the Animals

feast of St. Francis, St. John the Divine

We followed her in, a stray, the fattest & first, the temple cat.
In a niche by the altar she crouches, watches them come: the
mad parade we’d wanted, this troupe of heretics — the ass,
alpaca, gyrfalcon — unbroken line of celebrants, creatures
scared or solemn, leashed or swaddled or led or garlanded as
if for sacrifice — coatimundi, camel, timber wolf — while all
down the narrowing aisle in Sunday best the human children
yelp, sigh, coo, stand on chairs, crane their necks for each new
visitant — peacock, little owl, fennec fox—

& you, if you sat there reading, look suddenly up,
& you, if you slumbered, go bolt upright,
& you, if you disbelieved, sing out with “Oh!”

                                                              —boa, tortoise, bobwhite
quail — as though you’d remembered something, a squeal, a
purr, a bleat from your head’s own ancient manger, wingbeat
of an older angel — dodo, pigeon, Pegasus — as though instead
of forms, tame things, defunct divinities, you knew them,
fleetingly, as they’d been before they walked (harp seal, bell
bird, humpback whale) up creaking gangways, minute by
minute, year on year, into the vast arcs of their own names—
lion, lamb, Leviathan — so that later, after we’d eaten, lying
together naked on your floor, I watched, with my own eyes &
yours, as alpha leapt to kiss omega, the whole primordial
mass in motion, one fat cat swatting flies out of midair.

About the author

Henry Walters was born in Chicago in 1984 and grew up in Clinton, Michigan. After studying Latin and Greek as an undergraduate at Harvard…

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Issue 24 · Autumn 2021

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