Just as in reclaimed ground some leave tokens to show how extensive the work of clearance has been, God leaves such tokens to show from where he has brought them.
—François Fénelon

Photo: Eric Peters

Atop this hill, the wind is no ally. The still and silence are neither still nor silent for long. The winter sun is dispossessed, a primped and ruby-lipped chanteuse on lyrical hiatus whose vacant stage stands bereft of spectacle. Trees and the altars of earth stand fixed, fervently safeguarding their domains amid wind’s loose and peculiar vagaries. Beneath dawdling Midwest skies, the crown of silence is a prolonged ache, as peculiar as a parachute engulfing an ant’s head, as out of place as a beggar at royal table. Here, the wind does not whisper; it wails.

Despite their perceived bravado, trees demonstrate an utter lack of valor, abandoning their curling and tinted children, surrendering them violently to the ground below, unto the acute air enfilading their stoic, nearly bare skeletons. The wind regrets nothing. The complexions of earth are mere obstacles in wind’s long, swirling, divisive, searching path of least resistance. I should know; absorbing every blow, I am the memorial house crowning this hill, an altar overlooking the sheltered, meek ground below.

Its bony magician fingers reaching upward over gabled rooftops, its long shadows bruised and blushing, earth attempts to conjure control, to drag itself free from the submerged confinement of a long obedience. The windborne ghosts, for so long corralled and held in check by the buoyant, verdant skyline of trees, return to make noise, freely roving and roaring through the now vacant, unimpeded spaces. Behind leeward facing doors, my windowpanes rattle and clink, buckle and vibrate in cadence with the swirling winds outdoors, the fingerless specters’ haunting soundtrack to the sky’s ever-darkening, brooding, aloof melody.

I am a token here, an altar to mark the space where a dream was dreamed, a forest cleared, land reclaimed, a foundation laid, a hope hoped, a desire met. I sit upright on two front columns, regal, and alert, a king keeping watch over kingdom. My sides show their age, remorselessly and violently pierced by windblown shrapnel, by swirling apathy. Layers of cream-colored paint chip and peel revealing ever older storied layers. Sinewy mortar deteriorates in the space between bricks, and my lit soul wavers between the colorful future and the black-and-white past. Though riddled with exhaustion, I remain. Even so, there is no warding or fending off inevitability. I do not ask for your pity. My eyes, after all, are bright and clear. I have witnessed the rise and fall of many lives, suns, stars, and moons, and I remember them all.

I remember every devil, every grim and cunning holy-roller, the pale and sad drunks, the brisk-walking wrinkled librarian, the frumpy and often foul professors, the grinning salesmen, every exuberant child, every prank and footfall, every curious gawker wielding a camera, every lamp lit and extinguished, even the irregular pulse of my own basement heart. Here, I have lain prone beneath the listless, dallying, belligerent summer sky, and I have languished. I have both longed for, and cursed, Jonah’s shade tree. Though I have seen the sun raise forth living light from the dead horizon, I have found little comfort in its westward setting at my back, for it promises an end to all things. I am shone upon by moonlight. I have conveyed light, and I have consumed it as well. I am lit from without and lit from within. But an end has its beginnings. A token, I mark an existence, a being, a beginning and end, a memory worth remembering. Even so, I stand here as alone as the day I was first erected. No matter how much the light bathes or the winds scour me, the ache of solitary sadness is ever-present. That sadness is neither still nor silent for long. It lingers, roves and roars through the vacant spaces, rattling and clinking inside my hollow bones between the halls and sinews holding me together. I am a soul with a thousand stories to tell, and the confidence to speak them into the wind and silence alike. I am an altar unto the world, but I will not outlast it.

This crest is a pulpit from which stories are witnessed and told. Altars unto the world moor the swirling, divisive past to the flitting, indecisive future. They bring us face to face with the grace that has brought forth this day, which offers this moment as an opportunity of living and breathing amid ghosts, erosion, ache, yearning, and memory, to shine and be shined upon. Vignetted corners fade into the lackluster background while the dithering, open sky yawns. The world below plagiarizes, pummels, and tramples the kingdom of memorials, engulfing them in its gaping, toothsome jowls. Yet the kingdom survives; I know, for it lives inside of me, and I have felt its crowning ache. It is illuminated from without and from within, yet nothing is lost — not the ache, the silence, nor the crown. The rambunctious, wailing wind swings wide, its ghosts encircling, enfilading my hopes and dreams, begging me to forget, to cease remembering, to be blind, to abandon my charge as an altar, as a token marking the good that God has begun.

Eric Peters makes his home in Nashville, TN, with his wife of 15 years, Danielle, and their two lively, young children. He enjoys seafood, reading, birds, autumn, peace, and quiet. Rarely does he get to revel in any of these. When he's not touring as a performing singer-songwriter, he paints paintings, collects books, watches the grass grow, and mows other people's lawns.


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