His red-fisted Irish face,
a slight peeling…the dryness of his forehead,
James silently receives oil from the priest.
He is ninety-nine, and death for him
is a sweet smell, soon here.
He will tell you that he has closed his hand,
holding onto endings already his;
that the break is gradual, and doesn’t jar.
Death comes from the earth, says James,
like a warmth that comes up from the
linoleum floor of the nursing home,
into his feet and legs, caressing him.
He’ll tell you that the color of his death
sways in the whiteness of the cotton curtains
blowing in his room, exploding
in the eastern morning sun,
like the frilly bleach of his baptismal dress
back in nineteen hundred sixteen,
when the water was poured over his
red-fisted Irish baby face. He’ll tell you
with a Celtic grin about his first-class ticket
on the glory train, and that on the final ride
he’s only a wide-eyed passenger now.
Fr. Robert Phelps, O.F.M. Cap. has been a Capuchin friar for 63 years and a priest for almost 55. He served for 26 years in the territory of Guam in the western Pacific and 14 years in Hawaii. He began to write creatively when on a private retreat in a rain forest near Lahaina, Maui, in 1991. He has one full-length book of poems, In the Hug of a Sun that has Stopped, published by Lion Autumn Music Co.; two chapbooks, Ever, and Point of View, published by Finishing Line Press; and one e-book, Incessancy, published by Book Baby. He lives in a community of friars in Beacon, New York.