Tuning the Pipe Organ
I grew up with the accoutrements of pipe organs
filling our garage, some as small as piccolos,
some arriving like giants in rough-hewn crates.
On occasional Saturdays, I helped my father tune
what he had built inside quiet churches, each dim
as an underwater scene, each cool as a cave
no matter what season. I preferred the older
sanctuaries with their faint smell of damp,
with their dark mahogany pews and marble floors
that would clack beneath women’s Sunday heels.
I walked with my father the length of the nave
toward where a crucifix hung like a compass,
then veered right or left toward the organ’s console.
Before he disappeared down some dark hallway
like he would one day disappear forever, my father
settled on the bench, pulled the knobs he called stops,
and then began to play. Sound filled the church
like a full-bodied wine as his fingers skirled
three cliffs of keys, as his feet ranged the pedals
like some intricate folkdance. My job was
much simpler—to begin with middle C,
to hold down each note until I heard
his disembodied voice calling Next.
A few of those low notes were like fog horns,
others were like ogres bellowing, but each was
capable of palpating my lungs, of claiming my throat.
Stained glass cast its jewels across my lap, and
in that moment I understood something about eternity.
For that moment, I felt close to holy.