Blessings Upon Water

Orthodox Christmas, Santa Barbara Harbor

By Christine Penko

Late afternoon,
squads of brown pelicans soar
through golden cloud chalices.

Far below, black-robed priests
bless at least a hundred of their human flock
standing beneath the Yacht Club’s pilings.

I’m arrested by the spectacle—
reminded of when I lived on Venice Beach,
took my morning coffee to the roof of my apartment,

looked toward the sea and saw, as if a dream,
full grown elephants running in the surf.
Here, the ceremony is just beginning.

Congregants follow full-bearded clergy until—
reaching the ocean’s lip—silver crosses,
the size of boomerangs, are flung

into briny waves. Young boys plunge after,
dusky bodies outlined in a low slant of sun.
They do this over and over, beatific smiles

on their wet faces as they return their crosses,
anticipate the next throw—blessed and beautiful
and innocent as elephants freed from the ring.

Christine Penko is the author of Thunderbirds, a memoir in poetry, published in 2015. Her work can also be found in journals and anthologies under the name Christine Kravetz. Recent publications include Prairie Schooner and Miramar. She taught poetry in Santa Barbara schools, and was the administrator for California Poets in the Schools in Santa Barbara County. Also by this poet: "Back Bay, Los Osos" and "For Doctor Emmerson on the Occasion of My New Hip"