In Praise of Ritual

The young woman steps up
Into a forest of adults,
Their gnarled hands
As shields,
As signs,
As cudgels,
Their prayer shawls
Billowing like sails,
Conveying her along
On this raft of ritual.

None of the practice,
The memorization,
The chanting,
The slow disappearance of vowels,
Her first real look at the mottled
Parchment, so clearly
An animal's hide --

None of it prepared her for this moment,
But in this way it is like the rest of life
After the ritual:

You prepare, but are still rudderless,
You are expert and yet unschooled.
You know, and know not.

Her pulse pounding in her throat,
She begins, weakly at first.
Her eyes are dry.
The letters on the parchment blur
When she blinks.

And then, the transformation occurs:
The letters are singing:
She merely opens her throat
To let them pass through.

When she is done,
The great gnarled fists
Open and bring her
Into embrace.

None of it makes any sense --
And after all, why should it?

Paths and mountains do not
Make sense --
They merely lower
Themselves to you,
When you commit to them,

And begin to climb.

--Mr. Gobley