When I was young and sitting in church
we used to sing, Faith of Our Fathers,
a rouser of a hymn, in which we braved
dungeon, fire and sword, and stayed true till death.
What was our father up to
while my sisters and brother and I slept
or sat in school,
and did mom know, and what was faith
that he was getting us into so much trouble for?
At the same time you could tell
it wasn't our own flesh-and-blood dad
sitting next to us in the pew that the song was about,
though he sang loud and strong
like it was great we could all be in jail together,
so maybe it was his father,
the older, kind-looking man in the photograph,
whom we children of immigrants wanted to
but never met—which seemed even less likely.
The song said their faith was living still,
meaning it hadn't died; father after father,
all down the line, they'd passed it on,
kept it going, like a small fire,
a life-giving flame that cooked their food
and warmed their bones, and that when push
came to shove they’d fight to hang onto,
though this hadn't happened in a long time.
Or maybe living still meant their faith was quiet and calm,
reflective, like flood waters in the lowlands
on a windless day. Or both.
But what was it? Faith?
I still didn't know. Something to do
with fire and water. Because he was my father,
and because mom did know, and agreed,
I have carried the fire and entered the water
also singing, although the words now are changed
and we brave not dungeon and sword
but doubt and difference, while staying true
to sweetness words could not touch,
but poured from their mouths like honey.