Two Poems about Dust

It has been a dusty few weeks. The decrepit heating system in our house got replaced and a light film of murkiness descended in its wake, alongside holes which periodically deposit a sprinkling of plasterboard in the places where radiators were pulled from the walls.

To join with the general commotion, I am attempting to sand down the wall which has chalkboard paint on it, and with it suffering from a case of black snot.

A few weeks back it was Ash Wednesday, a day to be prepared for the season of Lent. With the imposition of ashes it is said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

When we remember that we are dust, it is easier to remember who God is apart from us.

It is God who remains, who is faithful, who is holy.

And yet, as the second poem reminds us: do you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?

Somehow we rest in an understanding of ourselves as humans that is both low and high. We are ephemeral, dirty dust called to live out unchanging, holy grace.

Ash Wednesday, Offshore 

We cordoned the bay from the ocean and it did not contain the spill.

           O God, who created the earth,

We used napalm and explosives to breach the freighter’s tanks

and discovered more fuel on board than we originally believed.

           whose spirit hovers over the water,

Daily we counted the dead or injured grebe, sanderling,

and snowy plover. We knew that soon some would have built nests.

           who said, Let it teem with living creatures,

We began an investigation. We said, 

Oil-spill prevention has become good business.

           and let birds fly above the earth,

The predicted storm arrived. Twenty-five knot winds

blew across twenty foot seas. We waited for the water to calm.

           forgive us.

We towed the mangled vessel two-hundred miles 

to where the ocean drops six-thousand feet. Coast guard 

and naval ships fired at the bow to sink it, and it sank.

           Grant that these ashes, 

The pressure and cold sea water turned the remaining thousands 

of gallons of bunker fuel viscous.

           the mark on our foreheads of your suffering,

           be to us a sign. Amen.

Marlene Muller

Blessing the dust

All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if all you had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners


or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial—


did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?


This is the day

we freely say

we are scorched.


This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.


This is the moment

we ask for the blessing

that lives within

the ancient ashes,

that makes its home

inside the soil of

this sacred earth.


So let us be marked

not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

not for shame.

Let us be marked

not for false humility

or for thinking

we are less

than we are


but for claiming

what God can do

within the dust,

within the dirt,

within the stuff

of which the world

is made

and the stars that blaze

in our bones

and the galaxies that spiral

inside the smudge

we bear.

Jan Richardson

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