“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
Your encouraging words of description feel just right as I struggle to be heard, and work to remember and depict this long summer month, which approached like a soot-stained messenger fueling his miner’s light with pain and grief and fear. And yet what dynamite remains here for me, defiant in a laughing gas chamber, determined to retain a personal trainer, a shortened-life coach.
I’m not sure why I found it so endearing, the surgeon’s always saying, upon hearing his patient’s slightly hopeful rephrasing or reply just after he’s been told the how and the why of the surgery or recovery, a fine-mineral fear inset in optimism, “From your mouth to God’s ear.” The surgeon said it encouragingly, with a smile. Considering it, it took me only a little while to realize what it signified: “We can’t really know, but it’s good to hope so. Who knows? Let’s hope so. But also don’t mistake my taking of a measure, my neutral explanation. Elsewhere is your treasure or rescue, if any exists. Nothing is promised, either.” By then, I was content to drift in uncertainty’s ether.
At the ninth hour of prayer Peter and John, or “Jhon” as he renders it, ascended the stairs of the temple called Beautiful, encountered there a man halt from the womb.
The man, laid in the porch of the temple called Beautiful, desired alms of them about to enter, alms to anoint the unlevel walls and floors of the room that was his body, wasting away.
The entering pair “fastened” (he says) their eyes on him, the one asking, and said “Look on us.” And he did, he gave heed unto them, trusting to be their recipient
of something or other. “Silver and gold have I none, such as I have give I thee,” spoke Peter, giving his right hand. In the name of Jesu he lifted the lame one onto his ruined feet.
The offered hand retracted, bearing a weight unused to being lifted, even as their fastened look urged the man’s glance forward, as if tethered or, better, a bungee cord springing upward in lively retreat.
Immediately his anklebones received strength. The recipient was rising up, was soon risen. He “sprang, stode, and also walked,” or so it goes in William Tyndale’s good glad version, robust
words like a jubilant tiding, fresh-faced for this story. Walking and leaping and lauding god, he accompanied the two in the temple, and held them, healed. We astonished crowded the gate,
passed through the elaborate entrance to the temple called Beautiful. We knew him, and therefore were all the more sorely amazed. We followed the praising trio deep into Solomon’s hall.
I think once again about your brother and sister-in-law, god-awful uncertainty as they await the news. I almost hear their parental oath, or nearly so since the legal process started with his birth, this infant boy they're hoping to adopt who's been exposed to heroin and meth. How much so they don't know yet, but expect the tox screens will soon appear, announcing extent and consequence.
Till then their prayers are ample, open to inscrutable will, yet not remotely serene. The couple's caught up in their frequency. Naturally they're solicitous to gain everyone's lifted pleading, fruitful and keen. So when asked if I will pray, I sense it's the least, potently least, I can do as they do their best outside the NICU. So blessings upon your family, both immediate and extended. (I mean
your family, but then again the prayers too, lifted by air across hope's mezzanine.)
It’s almost a job requirement for poets: accept the fact of being far removed from mainstream artistic culture. We poets are happy—ecstatic, really—to cultivate a few hundred thoughtful readers, and we have developed a thick skin toward the widely repeated remark that more people today write poetry than read it.
Upon learning of Bill Bryson’s new Shakespeare (The Illustrated and Updated Edition), I felt momentarily confused. Had that witty writer of felicitous English prose already composed a new Shakespeare book, fast on the heels of his Shakespeare: The World as Stage, published two years before?
Reader, here is no know-nothing muddle-mouth grinning till his time’s up, nor this month’s charismatic hotshot— let’s be glad for that. Nor is it time for deeper, troubled things, the heaviness of swollen hands that knit our sweaters or underfed teenagers who look like my six year old, sweet in his warm bed. Shall I go on, then, or end it?
It’s not even an occasion for lyrical greatness (who can bear or hear it?), or honoring the slain and scars of veterans (how to sustain it?) or excursions on hermeneutical wings along the Word. Or less estimable, more complicated forms of happiness: breathless days when we became better than ourselves, as if awaking from a dream.
Let other songs bless or curse with big decibels. I leave this business, such as it is, to higher-minded poets or tireless annalists.
I sing simply of Love, of grace, and those graces who are your friends, warm with life and giving you grief, playfully—these late evenings in December. And I sing of such beautiful people, even closer, safe and asleep nearby, here and there, her and her and him, so pleasing and peace be with them, and you too, Reader, you too.
Among Ireland’s best contemporary poets, Paul Muldoon pours forth a river of words resembling (to this Midwestern reviewer, at least) not so much Joyce’s Liffey as Twain’s Mississippi. His verse feels broad in its idiomatic currents, ever flowing and turning, perplexing sometimes in its unpredictable fathoms, but still remarkable to behold.
The walk back, more loss. When I open the door it’s over, so I set to piddling: tidy end tables, check the mail, draw a bath. The restless energy finally settles as I pass the mirror. I peer into it. My nose touches glass. Not much left, already effaced, not even a cross to speak of. A smudge. A few black soot stains like pinpoints on the forehead. The rest of the blessed ash has vanished to a grey amorphousness, to symbolize . . . not much. Except a wish for those hallowed moments to be followed by sustaining confidence. Except spirit, which means to shun its listless weight for yearning, awkward if not more earnest prayer and fasting in the clear face of dust.
Near chamomile and rosebud potpourri a pair of porcelain camels rest, bit players glazed and unaware of this faux Nativity. Peasant extras lift their silent, pleasing prayers with seasonal adoration. None harbors signs of panic: no goats or stable maids, no wise trio, those dazzled star readers bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Not the puzzled carpenter from Galilee. Not the curious shepherds, nor the virgin exhausted still from her spotless labor.
These figures encircle a barren trough. Where have you gone, O lost Christ child? In truth, the Messiah’s size is the stuff of legend: he’s been abducted. (No Ascension- Come-Early before the ministry begins) Not much bigger than a packing peanut, the babe’s become an object of devotion, begotten for those tenacious paws’ wild swatting or mouth that totes the Savior in haste. We spy the vacancy and know the culprit: fat Larry, golden pear and roly-poly cat,
that ring-tailed and recidivist felon. Regular brigand of the infant Son, he mocks this fragile coffee-table cast. We joke that his is a holy commission, converting birthplace to an empty tomb, Bethlehem yoking the born and risen. Each time He’s someplace new: laundry room or water dish. Under chair, in basement, unknown manger now. And still His grace and tiny lacquered limbs feel ever present, embodying their reliquaried space.
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