Poem | 'There But for the Grace'

I. Strophe

“Whoever does this for the least of these
does it for me,” says Jesus Christ my King
to Whom I offer thanks on bended knees.
Now to my brother drunkards I must bring
shelter and provender, a chance to seize
pants by their belts, whatever ill they’ve done,
and lift their bloodshot eyeballs to the sun.

II. Antistrophe

For decades I gave nothing to the poor,
nothing to those less fortunate than I,
oblivious to their needs, but by and by
in dread of Peter waiting at his door,
in dread of Judgment at the Last Assize
when we are sorted for our works and faith
and every one of us, a frightened wraith,
averts his gaze from our Redeemer’s eyes,
penitent prayer when I lay down to rest
softened the stone I carried in my breast.

III. Epode

Behold the birds, the lilies of the field
            which neither spin nor sow.
St. Michael wards our planet with his shield,
            and its refulgent glow
illumines dusty footpaths to the grave
where mercy wields its mighty power to save.

Sola fide?  Judge also by my works.
            the lyrics that I write,
the callings which this servant seldom shirks
            however recondite,
my nameless gifts of kindness to the poor
make my salvation seem less insecure.

Published in the April 15, 2016 issue: 

Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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