Chapel of St. Nicholas

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.



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