Bio Note: It’s been a while since I contributed to Verse-Virtual, but I’ve kept reading and admiring the poems posted there. I guess I needed a personal invitation to return since I was so saddened by the untimely passing of its founder who I felt really got my poems and kept encouraging me to write in Yiddish. I write poems, short stories, memoirs, opinion pieces, humor and have been published in many newspapers, journals, and anthologies. My favorite themes are travel, justice, languages, and immigration, being an immigrant myself.
While Reading The Ninth Hour
I test the waters for the next book club read. The Winner of the National Book Award is what I select for principled perusal. Brooklyn serves as base for an order of nursing nuns who care for elderly shut-ins, disabled invalids, needy families, abused wives, children in predominately Irish Catholic environs. These are no ordinary women, these women of God who do what no priests can bring themselves to do. With minds, ethics, and a determined will of their own they take control when others won’t, can’t, or prefer to look the other way. They handkerchief away the mucus from a patient’s nose, wipe the pale bottoms of invalids, empty their commodes. They change and wash soiled underwear, bathe, dress, feed the sick, dispose of coughed up phlegm. Nothing escapes their eyes, from small sins to infidelity, negligence to cruelty, inattention to desertion. I convince myself I align with them for the good they do until I read what Sister Lucy says in a series of quotes: “Never waste your sympathy. The poor we will always have with us.” This she says without kindness or resignation. But her final quote stuns me with disbelief as I read and reread searching for her intention: “If we could live without suffering, we’d find no peace in heaven.” I sit, ponder, wondering if I regret having read so far and now wanting to abandon this prize winning novel. I resolve to continue and encounter more sins, some committed by nuns, all committed in the same hour of the day. I research the title and discover the Ninth Hour, or the Midafternoon Prayer, is a fixed time of prayer of the Divine Office of almost all traditional Christian liturgies, consisting mainly of psalms said around 3 pm, about the ninth hour after dawn. Is this the magic hour? The bewitching hour? The truth hour? The uncaring hour? And in biblical times? The feast of Passover, when they once slew sacrifices from the ninth hour to the eleventh corresponds obliquely to this hour of mystery. It is also the hour in which the nuns commit their greatest sin, one of playing God, that will prevent them from entering the heaven they believe in. Armed with this knowledge, I still cannot accept the biting message on Sister Lucy’s tongue. I would rather live in peace, without suffering and never think about Sister Lucy’s heaven whose entry price is unaffordable, unacceptable for me.
The price of luxury goods, like reality and truth, has soared. Not easily affordable, like truffles, they are considered rare commodities, close to priceless, well-hidden in the midst of camouflaged trappings and leafed layerings, sniffed out only by scent-honed hunting hogs. To take what is unvarnished, untarnished, in its natural state, and redefine it as something malleable, twistable, theoretic, unpopular, is an art, one that few possess, but many admire. And that is why we read fables to our children. The moral at the end gets them closer to truth than sworn testimony and allegiance to falsehoods masking veracity while attempting to bury what will one day betray their efforts and strip them bare.
If you’re in the business of stealing tomorrows from children, recognize that the sacrifice of their young blood will never appease the unholy power of gun worship. If you’re fine with leading lambs to slaughter along with their shepherds, change your party flag symbol from pachyderm to an AR-15. If the god you pray to craves power and might, revenge and ultimatums, realize that the more powerful and mighty the god, the more violent his worshippers. Pray, worship, vow allegiance, but choose your gods wisely and do no harm.
©2023 Evie Groch
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