Children, breathless from beach-running,
dance in the deserted Russian chapel:
bare muddy feet bounce on the floorboards,
disturbing winter’s dust, rattling slightly
the priests’ bones, buried underneath.
The little chapel shivers, its wooden walls
gray from salt-weathering, its onion dome
faded pale blue and the little golden cross
long gone. The wood of its boards remembers
the incantations: first shamans’ songs, then
priest’s litanies, and then the final extinguishing
of both, so that finally only the wind in the spruce
can call back the people and their prayers;
the last priest, who lives in the nearby house,
is growing old: he will have no successor.
The chapel’s floor once bent with the weight
of the believers, now its only companions
are the village children and their dogs
who burst in, all together, jostling and laughing,
picking nearby fireweed stalks, stripping
their leaves and flowers for fencing fights,
while the dogs explore the chapel’s corners.
Too soon they are bored, and with one shout
the children throw away their broken swords
and, with a whoop, run back to the beach,
leaving the Chapel of St. Nicholas quiet again.