Every winter I find the tracks leading across my back porch to my neighbor’s pond. Four hands, one at a time in a line through the snow. On Christmas Eve I saw the raccoon, silver as holiness, holding in both hands perhaps a crayfish, perhaps a frog pulled unconscious from half-buried hibernation, washing it between the shards of ice at the edge of the water. Baptism is innate in raccoons. He only comes to bless himself for death not yet inflicted, imminent—and yet the constant chafing seems like the gesture of a gilded saint painted on the altar, soaked from the precipitation of incense. Pilate to Jesus: all in all is all we are—all apologies and all that. Jesus to Pilate: I understand. The snow-covered evening seems to me a litany, and I wonder what would sweeten these hands, mine. How many times must I be blessed and broken, seized living from a hibernaculum of dust?
Nighttime here smells of tree sap and corn leaves, buries itself in the mind like the ink of a fountain pen as it burns its way into the page to be warm for the winter, wakes like a cat to the sound of a cricket’s wings. The frogs vanish into the bark of trees, reminding my fingers of the way the tree’s skin felt when it was young. My mother’s voice smooths the wrinkles from the darkness: blackbird singin’ in the dead of night. A tree frog lands on my open lips—fingers stretched like chewing gum across the span of my mouth, slack belly shaking, suspended, in the path of my breath. Whoever does not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood. And I began to understand uncleanness then, I think, as I felt the grit of tree bark transferred to my teeth and tasted the mucous on his skin that washes my dust from his feet. Not so my feet, bare to the grass. For me only a burning benediction pressed against my lips and lost again.