Martin Jack

Ash Wednesday Revisited

Because I do not hope to turn

- T.S. Eliot, ‘Ash Wednesday’


Come, turn again

to the blessed voice

while twisting

on the vacant stairs.

The bowl is full of ashes

honey sweet for the transitory hour

that strikes as a priest whispers

his first confession on the air

his conscience knee-skinned,

kneeling on hard marble floor.

After mourning God answers

the dry bones with life-

giving wind that blows where

it will in the quiet deserted lots

of the mind, redeemed

at the edge of the garden.

Ash marks the spot on the brow

where God claims his people.

On their face ashen crosses

unveil new creations

before the groaning rocks

who cannot pray

but bend their wills only

to God’s reign, awaiting

his mysterious timing

for the redemption of flesh.

Martin Jack © 2010


All our Lent Wednesdays

spent breathless in the pews

quicken to Easter birth,

the memory of sins shed

like skin in the shadow

of the cross, until finally spent

purged with the fasting

of trinkets for a time

forgetting ourselves in the light,

that swallows our darkness

and spits it out of mind

into the sea.

This is preparation,

smoothing what we thought

was beyond repair

as the blood beckons us

to redeem the dream

of holiness where trees flower

and dress themselves

in a white gown,

where we hope to turn

again to the Word within

and without, leaving the lost

heart at the cemetery gates

as we throw the ash

over our shoulders.


Within, we listen to the Comforter

teaching us to be a cathedral

made of the supernatural fruit

of the vineyard.

Without we sing hymns

that rise upwards

carrying sacrificial music

out of our scattered voices

to the beating chamber

of God’s father heart.

There the Word rests,

whistling amidst the noise of men

praying for those who oppose

until this ash-tinted day

becomes theirs,

and the whole world turns

from adultery to sowing

the seeds of grace;

and smokes the blasphemous

names on its swollen belly

in the Valley of Slaughter ,

glad to be united

with the Eminence

as its prayers for mercy

shake eternal whispers

from the dust.

Martin Jack © 2010