An Understory – for St Peters

Spread the love

beneath the high altar, where icons watch, flicker in candleflame,

direct below, and precisely so, a kitchen stovetop flames for decades,

bringing to boil a rotation of hearty soups

(confess my favorite: Saturday bean with bacon)

stirred with a steel paddle size enough to oar a canoe.

then bow, step back from the altar… 

beneath the facing pews of a choir stall where evensong hangs in air,

peanut butter by the bucket, that leguminous root, is spread

openface on the stainless counter, 

bread board of sandwich assembly line.

young Catholic Workers once peered round the doorframe

to ask, “How far does the line go back?”

“All the way to Jesus,” quips a reply.

which is to say, beneath the table circled

laden in season with bud or fruitage 

and weekly with gifts of blessed wine and bread

are tables beside tables, a host akin to Stephen’s daily distribution;

street survivors, friends, and angels unaware

are entertained and gently share 

with all, hospitality as vocation.

just across the parking lot,

some of those same, made Manna Garden their project,

turning compost in a wooden bed,

push seeds and seedlings with thumb into earth

to partner there with red worms.

while fungal mycelia whisper and sing of street harvest to come.

Once long past, a block further south, May’s Creek flowed cross Trumbull; 

it was buried by development, though some said it ran still.

where its route approached the river, 

the rock bed became a rail line

from beneath Michigan Central Station.

(now, high above, new windows and desks for engineers

will plot vehicles for the self-driven).

out front, machines roll by on Michigan Ave.

long ago beneath it, a forest path was cut by moose and mastodons.

Anishinaabe peoples tread light upon it as the Saulk Trail

all the way from Waawiyatanong to Shikaakwa 

(as they called the skunky onion marsh, now buried by Chicago).

settlers laid that path with corduroy, cobblestone, and macadam,

the better to move wagons and even heavy cannon,

eventually laying down paving stones, street rail, and asphalt.

(the rail is buried still, but the paving stones are back in fashion

for covering things over, with nostalgia quaint).

the church’s foundation is firm, as they say,

going deep and holding space on the famous corner.

laid down in the old ways, it survived the crash, that one in ’29,

but dozers, cranes, and big wheels shake

this earth now,

repipe infrastructure, coincident with cracks and leaks

and hundred-year climate storms.

claim it even so: underground is a vocation too,

a necessary and sacred mystery.

think: Miriam and Moses walking a people out from under empire

on a wilderness way, quenched by the find of an underground stream.

or Elijah, prophet on the run from monarchy, 

fed on oil and a widow’s wee cake.

Jesus slipping the grip of a mob on his hometown bluff, 

off on the lamb to a safe house.

or Paul, once busted out of prison, fleeing official threats, 

let down by basket through a hole in the city wall.

early christians navigate catacombs beneath the imperial city,

make forbidden eucharist by lamplight, 

paint frescos depicting women priests.

remember Bonhoeffer convening the seminary illegal 

while safe space and conscience shrank down and away.

or Berrigan ducking the Feds, the law’s clawed reach,

under a Bread and Puppet apostle with a paper mâché head.

and never forget Harriet turning the underground, 

on coded and hidden rails, into movement, 

with a terminal beside Detroit’s river.

or Lucy and Thornton Blackburn who walked it here 

having escaped in Louisville. 

recaptured as fugitives, they were freed again to Windsor’s banks

by Black community, in clever ruse and angry force.

or our dear Kit Concannon, with 

her desk between the baptismal font and Guadalupe’s altar

spiriting Salvadorenos across the same waters to Canada,

St Peter’s own companion to sister sanctuaries.

let underground be a spiritual home, to live in, live by;

where Spirit moves, abides, and the company is holy good indeed.