Holy Day of Obligation

How could I have forgotten those holy days of obligation?
A Catholic schoolboy—an altar boy, even—
I was myself obliged to observe and honor them,
to attend Mass in the cavernous, wood-pewed church,
to genuflect and take communion,
to bend my head in prayer with my fellow grade-schoolers
while the priest prattled on,
all of us whispering and passing notes
sometimes shooting spitballs
or tugging on girls’ ponytails
while they tried to reach back and snap our elastic ties….

But, even so, I remember clearly how the stained glass glowed
            like a revelation of the hidden beauty of the world—
and you could not fail to notice the nearly naked man
            nailed to the wall,
or the way the massive columns of stone
held the pitched wood ceiling high above you….

Afterward, the sky seemed a kind of stained glass—
a robin’s-egg film delicate as a light bulb.
The trees seemed mute friends airing their leaves
            like things newly washed, set out to dry.
The wide asphalt playground where kickballs rolled
            and skip ropes spun
became the inner workings of a clock
            by which the world turned.

—Timothy Walsh, Madison