All The Sacrilege

The woodpecker who tries to peck Jesus every year has returned. He’s out there banging away at the metal Messiah. It reverberates through the gully and into my house. The Jesus Crack House. So named for the giant cracks in the brick facade on the West end, and for the giant crucified Jesus which looks directly down upon the roof.

One Catholic Church serves the entire county. Top of a hill. An enormous crucifix crowns the chapel. I live in the 40-foot shadow of a perpetual execution made even taller and more imposing by its placement at the top of a steep hill. I bought the house at the bottom of the hill. We have so overused the term “literally” in casual conversation that I hesitate to use it here. Except I literally live directly beneath this deathly religious icon, directly under the gaze of the dying Christ. The house must have cracked under the pressure. Or perhaps it was sympathy. I don’t know. It’s an old house.

A woodpecker comes every year and hammers the Lamb of God with a weaponized cranium. Again, it is metal; the whole thing. The cross, the corpse, the bells recessed within. Termites will never be pecked from it but every year the woodpecker tries. If you didn’t already know the sound of it you’d wake in confusion. Who jackhammers at this hour?

Here. Watch. Imagine this at 20 times per second. (That’s how fast a woodpecker pecks.) Now imagine it on an enormous metal surface, echoing through a valley.


It occurred to me today that this probably isn’t the same woodpecker. I’ve lived in The Jesus Crack House for over 10 years now. Surely after 10 years the peckerhead would have figured out there is nothing to be gained by repeatedly slamming one’s head into a metal effigy. Unless he/she just likes the sound of it. Maybe instead of a singer this bird is a drummer.

The internet says the lifespan of a woodpecker is 4 to 12 years. So it could be the same one. Or it could be more than one and pecking the death pole is a prank they play on each other, like avian hazing. Or maybe it’s a rite of passage. Test of manpeckhood or some shit.

There is an abandoned home rotting nearby. The elements and the animals are slowly breaking it down. Why not peck that? Lots of decaying wood, walls, roof, steps. Rife with insects. Overgrown with flora. Feast thy heads, peckers. Free meal, this way. Perhaps the squirrels have already claimed it. It must be quite the furry gangster hideout in there. Every now and then a car drives up and a human collects mail but never enters the dwelling. Must not be safe. If the humans won’t risk trespassing on tuff rodent turf, perhaps the woodpeckers won’t either.

I’ve got a squirrel cast of The Outsiders playing in my mind now.

tuff enuff
Better get your godpeckin’ ass outta here, sucka.

There is a priest in residence at the peck site, as well as some nuns. Sometimes they wave at me when I’m running. If the beak beat is loud and startling inside my house at the bottom of the hill, imagine it for them. Up there in the poop zone. Must be deafening.

I feel like I’ve written about this before. Forgive me.

Wait. I just thought of something else. Maybe the woodpeckers are practicing religious self-flagellation. This was a common practice in Christian history. It was called mortification of the flesh. Perhaps the wallops I hear are meant to be the sweet sounds of sacred ceremony. Perhaps the woodpeckers pilgrimage here — a flight of the faithful — to bang their heads against the holiest of all death penalties.

Now I know I’ve never written that before. You’ll probably still need to forgive me.

But behold. I feel less sad today. Thanks be.

— Mercy

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