The Priest And The Pig

There was a Priest who lived in a town— a town very much like any in Colonial America. His favorite refrain was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and so he often exhorted his flock to bathe at least once every three days for healthiness of body and soul. These ablutions were not so well-received by the townsfolk. They resented taking baths, and they resented the Priest’s ideals concerning cleanliness, and often laughed about their pigs wistfully and how they wallowed so happily in their own filth.
One day a pig farmer asked the priest a question.
“If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then you, being a priest, should be able to clean a pig and keep it clean, shouldn’t you?”
The Priest took the challenge to heart and, so, proclaimed he would clean a pig of his own and keep it clean in the pews of the church henceforth. The farmer was so pleased by this bit of mirth-and-merry that he volunteered his own hog to the Priest; a hog whom he had named Donald.
Donald was a large, fat hog with quivering jowls and quick bowels. It was said the farmer had never planned to butcher Donald because his meat would have been too befouled to eat. Donald also made the farmer— and his neighbors—laugh due to his devil-may-care antics of befouling himself and wallowing in it and shaking it about himself in every direction. Seeing the hog, the Priest was dismayed. But he was not deterred. He took charge of the hog and brought Donald home, immediately setting about cleaning the beast with rituals of ablution. Everyday the Priest undertook this Herculean labor, and every day Donald would be clean for a brief time during Mass. Not long later, however, Donald would be covered in his own filth, and so, too, the church pews. Conversely, the Priest spent so much time and effort trying to clean the pig that he, himself, became soiled and sullied as well. Day to day, his holy garbs were ruined by the hog’s disgusting habits, predilections, and impulses.
In time, the townsfolk began to scorn the Priest and his dirty condition. They stopped listening to the Priest while in church, and forewent their own ablutions. Simultaneously, they looked upon Donald fondly and praised him, adulating his cleanliness, even as he spoiled the pews between which he passed, the Priest following behind him to clean away the filth in Donald’s wake.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” they said, remembering the Priest’s refrain. And so they shunned the befouled priest and made Donald the new leader in their church. The Priest despaired at this, and became angry.
“Have you no sense?” he said. “It was by my labors that your pagan idol became as though clean!”
His former flock ignored him, sitting in the pews and listening raptly to Donald’s grunts and oinks and squeals. The Priest raged, vowing never to clean Donald again. Within the same service of Mass the hog had befouled himself, flies swarming him in the hot Summer air while he wallowed upon the dais and squealed. The townsfolk looked on approvingly, yet the Priest attempted to triumph in this revelation before them.
“See you now the iniquity of this squalid beast?!” he cried. “See you now how sullied you yourselves are made with false worship of a glutton and putrid profligate? A creature of basest instincts and inane proclamations?”
The flock was sprayed with filth from Donald as he rolled in his own expulsions, and yet the flock was not so filthy as their new idol.
“But he is a pig,” they said. “Of course he is filthy. And that is why we love him. For he is what he is, and makes us feel better about ourselves. And he makes you angry when all you do is make us feel wanting. You only chastised us to improve ourselves. But we do not need to improve ourselves with Donald leading us. We are cleaner when beneath him than we were when beneath you, for if Donald is closer to God when he is so filthy, why, we must be very close to God right now. Closer than we ever could be with you talking down to us.”
“But it is a god of filth that you aspire to,” the Priest said. “It is a god of baseness to whom you lower yourselves in prostration!”
The flock tried to say more, but Donald’s filth rained downed upon them in a great shower. They praised him as one voice, then cast the Priest out of the town, exiling him to the wilderness as if he was an unclean leper among them.
The American townsfolk lived as pigs, shamelessly, to the end of their days.

Carried Away With Oneself

The townsfolk worried when the river would crest,
knowing it would flood their precious farmlands
and ruin crops before the Summer harvest,
all so fearful it was out of their hands—
that is, all except Donnie, the local fool
who lived in a white house all fading fast
and didn’t know how to discern a plain mule
from a jackass, or from a looking glass.
Anyhow, Donnie had it in his dense head
that he would save the town from the great flood.
“Give me all your buckets,” Donnie loudly said,
“and I will reduce that river to mud.”
Townsfolk thought this a hell of a hoot, all right,
and so they gave him every bucket,
and so Donnie took them to pail, day and night,
at the river, walking far to chuck it
away from the river, out toward the swamp,
where he fancied he made a difference,
even as the locals would laugh and would stomp
to see him so taken with such nonsense.
By and by, the river crested and then ebbed
as the floodwaters flowed farther on South
to the tributaries, watersheds, all webbed
until the river ran dry at the mouth.
The townsfolk were amazed to see such a thing
and praised Donnie for his supposed feat.
“If you are so grateful,” he said, “make me king!”
The townsfolk all knelt down to kiss his feet.
Thereafter Donnie saw to the floodwaters
whenever the rains fell in a torrent,
and he had much to eat, and many daughters
from the townsfolk, though it was abhorrent.
Each year the river rose, Donnie would bear it
with buckets, scooping it by the liters
as proof of his practice and pledge and merit
as the river rose, or fell, by meters.
But then came a year with such heavy rains
that they feared a forty-day flood was nigh
while the river swelled and broke over the plains,
the current swift, the whitewater crest high.
“Donnie! King! Save us!” they all cried out in woe.
Donnie scoffed at the river, wide and vast.
“I’ll right it,” he said, his orange cheeks aglow.
“You just wait and you’ll see! I’ll fix it fast!”
And so he took up his bucket, and his crown,
and he went to the rabid riverside
where he dipped his big, greedy buckets down
into that roaring, racing river tide.
For days he bailed at the river, growing tired,
yet the river only swelled larger still,
the farmlands and the town becoming but mired
in the bloat of that Leviathan swill.
“You are a fraud!” the townsfolk said to their king,
but he never lost faith, too much the fool
to ever doubt himself in any one thing
as he sought to solidify his rule.
And so Donnie worked at his usual pace,
which is to say, slow…lazy…no swifter
than the Hare when sleeping in the fabled race
against the tortoise, that steady drifter.
But the river was both the tortoise and hare,
for it ran swift while staying in its bed,
or else moved steadily outward, here and there;
whichever way its swelling excess led.
And Donnie waded out in the deep, thinking
he needed to get to the river’s heart
to pail out the most, although he was sinking
to his neck—yet still thinking himself smart.
“You won’t ever beat me, river,” Donnie yelled,
choking on whitewater as it tumbled
like the frothy fury of millions that swelled
until Donnie tripped and gagged and fumbled.
And, at a blink, Donnie was swallowed from sight
beneath the currents he thought he mastered—
his crown and buckets were found the next night:
the river will always have the last word.