One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
You want to hear a resurrection story? I’ll tell you A resurrection story. I saw a squirrel get squished In the street. This was on Ash Street, near where a Family named Penance lives. Things like this rivet Me. Religions don’t live in churches. Religions are Not about religion, in the end; they’re vocabularies. This squirrel got hammered. I mean, a car ran right Over it, and the car sped down the hill, and I recall Thinking that some dog would soon be delighted to Be rolling ecstatically in squirrel oil, but then, even As I watched, the animal resumed its original shape And staggered off into the laurel thicket, inarguably Alive and mobile, if somewhat rattled and unkempt. Jesus and Lazarus must have known that feeling, of Being sore in every joint, and utterly totally fixated On a shower and coffee and a sandwich. Or walnuts, Depending, I suppose, on species. Our current form Is a nebulous idea, is what I am trying to say. Could It be that resurrections are normal and the one we’re Always going on about in the Christian mythologies Is only One a long time ago, when there are millions Per day? Could there be an insect Jesus and a badger Jesus and a salmon Jesus? Could there be impossible Zillions of Jesuses? Isn’t that really the whole point?
Thesis: What we commonly think of as Miracles, are mere Synchronicities, felicitous accidents, startling coincidences; Whereas that which we call common is actually miraculous. Whoa; let’s approach this slowly from the side, as we would Edge up shy and careful to a sleeping wolverine. Wolverines Are good to start with, come to think of it—I mean, consider A wolverine carefully. A whopping big one weighs less than Half the dogs you know, not to mention those two obese cats, Yet bears and cougars and even the most stupendously stupid Men back away from wolverines. They have been revered by People who know them well for years beyond counting. They Own their place. They were designed by immeasurable years. There are only a few of them, compared to, for example, ants. Are they not miraculous? Do they not inspire a reverent awe? Can any of us make any of those? No? Can it be that miracles Are things which we cannot comprehend or construct? Hawks, Elk, porpoises, children, damselflies, quasars—the list cannot Ever end, because every time we discover something, we also Discover more that we don’t know yet, isn’t that certainly so? So that which is miraculous is quotidian. While the occasional Inexplicable recovery, the avoidance of death and mayhem by The thinnest of margins, that only happens on occasion, right? So because it isn’t quotidian, perhaps it isn’t a miracle. Listen, I know your brain is buzzling right about now—it’s happening To me too. But the thought that miracles are normal, isn’t that The cool thought of the day? Let’s remember that until dinner, You and me, and then savor the miracles with whom we dine.
A stack of brownies as big as bricks for my children. A small paper bowl of red and orange salmonberries. An antler from a spike buck, perhaps three years old, Perhaps a black-tailed deer, perhaps now gargantuan. Cranberry syrup made up the coast about eight miles. Handshakes of all sorts. A photograph; their one son, Just deceased; we just thought that you should have it. Blackberry jam, homemade. Honey, homemade. Salal Sprigs, elderberry sprigs. Canned smoked salmon and Tuna, caught about two miles to the west of where we Stood in the library. A baby girl hoisted up so she and I could look each other in the eye. She sneezed. Books To scrawl upon. Huckleberry leaves. A cougar’s tooth, Gleaming. A man gripped me by the shoulder and said Nothing. His was a remarkably expressive grip. People Give you things without any things in their hands. You Know what I mean. They are eloquent without needing To speak. We hardly ever talk about this. I shuffled off With my arms full. I had been slathered by the glorious And only a little of it was in the basket I tucked into my Car. People were hungry for something. I knew what it Was and it wasn’t me; but I could tell stories that could Point to what it is we are all starving for. We work and Yearn and struggle and dream for it. Occasionally when We gather together, if there is humility, if there is story, If there is honesty, then there is just enough food for all.
The kindergarten bus bounces past me this morning as I shamble out to my car and a little cheerful kid waves To me shyly and whatever it is we are way down deep Opens like a fist that’s been clenched so long it did not Think it would ever open again and for a moment I am That kid and she is my daughter and I’m waving to her Hoping she will wave to me and we think that we can’t Write that for which we do not have words but actually Sometimes you can if you go gently between the words
Hauled an old longsleeved cotton shirt out of the drawer Yesterday and once again time ground gears and shifted Back forty years and this very shirt which was then more Shirt than holes is handed to me by my lean gruff almost Always quiet tall older brother who is of course my hero And I gape at him unbelievingly and say Really, for me? And he nods and so I come into possession of his college Shirt earned playing football for a tavern or something as Quotidian as that but not for me, not at all for me—that’s The point. Whatever we think is quotidian isn’t. The pub Was called Sweeney’s. It closed long ago. I would not be Surprised if this was the last Sweeney’s shirt in existence. I’ll always have his shirt in a drawer. If I touch it, here he Is in the room with me, smiling at how a shirt can make a Kid speechless with astonished joy, even forty years later. Isn’t that amazing? We hardly ever say how amazing it is That you can freeze time and reverse it and make it caper And spin it back to anywhere anyone you used to be. Isn’t That amazing? A snatch of song, a scent, a battered collar, A ratty old pub jersey. So many time machines. Yes, time Wins. My brother withered and vanished. Yet here he sits On the edge of the bed snickering at me as the shirt hangs Way down past my knees. No religion owns resurrections.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Today’s remarkable vision: a woman in her bridal dress Walking purposefully along the street. This was enough Of an amazing sight by itself, but the determined stride, The intent look, her I am going someplace, and I am not Worrying about how I look, even though I know you are All looking attitude—that got me. I mean, of course you Wonder where she was going, and where she came from, And why she is alone, and if this is a just little aberrance In an otherwise tightly plotted day, or if she was hustling To catch the bus, and where is the entourage you usually See flanking a bride, the cheerful best friends, the joyous But slightly jealous sisters although they would never say Such a thing even to each other after a few bottles of beer At the reception, or even perhaps the groom, where is he? I was caught in traffic and sped right along and only later Did I think should I have stopped, and offered her a ride? I mean, what if she was hustling to the actual ceremony? What if her Ford broke down and the groom was forlorn? But I have a lovely bride of my own, and I am on the one Bride per groom plan, which I renew every morning with A deep and amazed glee, so I hope the bride on the street Made it to wherever it was she was headed, or whomever. The whomever is a lucky soul, seems to me—a bride who Has the panache to stroll along unconcernedly even as she Knows full well folks are gaping; that’s a bride with brass.
Walked out to the car this morning to find a small brown Bird deceased on the windshield. A young song sparrow, Neither naked gawky nestling nor chesty feathered elder; A sort of a teenager, I guess. Cause of death not instantly Evident, nor did I spend time determining its gender; no, My brain got stuck on the teenager part. It’s so fearsome, Being a teenager. Everything is ten times louder. They’re Braver and stupider than any three older people; they are Three people, most of the time. This is discombobulating In the extreme. But we have no sympathy for them. We’d Prefer to forget we were them; we deny that we ever were. You know we do. If we wrote our histories we would skip From twelve to twenty, from generally bucolic childhood, At least fitfully, at least while finding refuge from trouble, To beginner older idiocy, which itself takes a decade or so. We get so impatient with teenagers. We want them to leap Past stupid. But stupid is a great teacher, isn’t it? Flailing At least teaches you what alleys to avoid, if at all possible. We have no mercy on them but they are in a thunderstorm, And probably it seems like it will never end, and we whine That they are wet yet again even after we advised as re wet. And how wet we were too, brothers and sisters, how moist And soaked and sopping and bedraggled we were, not even Fully feathered at the time, trying to figure out how to soar, And where to soar, and who, if anyone, would soar with us; And if we were blessed we had parents, maybe parents who Loved us even, but so often they just stood and sermonized As we fell out of the nest, frightened and thrilled and lonely.
Novels that rattled and moved me in the last year or so include Anthony Doerr’s terrific World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner). It’s the best novel I’ve read since Gilead. Like Marilynne Robinson, Doerr achieves a shimmering consistency of tone; it’s one of those books that you finish and then shake your head in quiet awe.
I was pawing through a shelf of books the other day When out fell a note from my late brother in his tiny Adamant wry inarguable crisp half-cursive-half-not Handwriting, and just for an instant I saw and heard Him at his desk, in his study, his mustache bristling, Black coffee half-cold, the burl of his body wrapped In the arms of the chair that held him for thirty years, A chair as big as a horse and twice as heavy. I heard Him, I tell you, I did, and I saw him, half-shadowed, Scribbling notes: his philatelic pursuits, notes for his Class next week, notes on a book he was going to do About Benedictine spirituality . . . then I was only me By the bookshelf again. But for a second I was in my Brother’s study, watching him. It was late, everybody Was in bed, but not him, as usual he was up late with Coffee. He was wearing a sweater. The scritch of his Pen. His shoulders like boulders. The dim procession Of his books, organized by genre and author. He died Three years ago. But I saw him, absorbed, thoroughly Attentive, scrawling notes. There’s way more possible Than we think possible; possible turns out to be a verb. I don’t know how else to explain things like this. They Happen all the time to all of us and we hesitate to gape About them publicly because the words sound like pap, Miracle and epiphany and vision, you come off as nuts, A religious goober who talks to owls and addled saints. But you know and I know that this happens. I guess we Will always understandably be hesitant to chat about it, Which is fine, as no one enjoys being labeled a goober; But once in a while, like here, we should admit that it’s Real, and it happens all the time, and it’s scary and cool. That’s all. Once in a while we should gently say what is.