“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” —1 Corinthians 15:54
Fortune Cookie sayings for this new day dawning: Your great-great-great grandfather resurrected stops by to say hello. Every pony you bet on at the track wins today and tomorrow. Your least favorite body part is glorified. You look marvelous. This cookie contains all the money you will ever need. See attached. Look to your left. The person sitting there loves you. Look to your right. The person sitting there loves you. Ask your waiter for another glass of water. He loves you. You love everyone. You kiss everyone. Everyone kisses you. You never have any reason to cry or get angry. Lucky numbers: all. This is the last fortune cookie ever. Beware of absolutely nothing.
Everything in the world begins with a yes. Clarice Lispecter
For Bishop Tom
In the beginning there is only Yes, infinitesimal, infinite, invisible seed sprouting in the swirling dark, the slow integration, expanding, extending, the sudden explosion into light—baby, blossom, universe, all beginnings are the same—and Yes to a world begun before words where nothing separates this from that, and Yes to the senses alive before language, bird song, leaf shadow, skin touching skin, and Yes to Tom whose injured brain erases speaking, reading, names, but through hands cupped upon bent heads, his unimpeded heart pours forth with nothing to restrict the flow of Yes in beginning and Yes in the end.
This is an updated version of the poem that appears in the print edition.
The sheep and sons wandering off. Coins clattering to the floor, rolling out of sight. Lamps that sputter dry. Somebody tearing a hole in the roof to lower a broken body like a piñata at a badly planned birthday party—
It makes me think how utterly smashed, uncomely is this Savior’s kingdom come.
Like today with the coughing in the pews, the notes sung off-key, the opaque sermon, rote and broke prayers as an old lady naps loudly and a youngster has a laugh attack.
Every Sunday I sit among four hundred parables. Chewing gum and busted bank accounts and colicky babes, no two the same but each attached to an identical ending.
The one I claim as I discover the rip in my pants, the one that will have me searching the house for needle and thread, some good light, and the patience to go at it a stitch at a time.
What would you choose? I’d like eternal life such as the dandelions aspire to across my lawn this morning. They will shine all day in my imagination while they rise, their golden crown they’ll lift to throw away turned seeds, the fuzzy diadems plucked by the wind. I’ll be that stalk remaining, tall, to fall.
But also I will be the wayward seed descending to flush the storm drain and pick clean the rainbows of the motor oil’s sludge across the grates, and maybe I’ll descend with one of the tomorrows down that drain
and then—Imagination stops me here. My last poem will inscribe that paradise.
I gave a rambling talk recently and a long line of teenagers came Up to speak to me afterward and it was instantly clear that every Single one of them wanted to ask me something while ostensibly Asking me something else, or say one thing while seeming to say Something else. I was so instantly moved I could hardly stammer Any sort of answer. I tried hard to hear what they were not saying Aloud but were saying with remarkable courage. It takes startling Courage to be a teenager, you know. There are so many theatrical Personas to try, but masks and disguises can get stuck. Or you get Trapped behind walls that begin as protective but become prisons. One kid in particular stays with me. He’s tall and shy and nervous. He says How do you deal with rejection? and somehow I instantly Get it that he does not mean essays and stories and poems and how You handle people saying steadily bluntly no to your insistent yes! He’s asking me about hope and despair and lovers and heartbreaks. He’s asking about the girl or boy he adores who does not love him. He’s staring at me. The other kids wait politely. I want to reach up And cup his face in my hands as if he was my son, but you have to Be honest with kids, you cannot merely bloviate and issue arrogant Pomposity, so I tell him you have to learn to be neighborly with no. You are going to see it every day and you might as well be friendly With the concept. Someone else’s no doesn’t actually kill your yes; It only means that someone else’s yes is still out there waiting. You See where I am going here? There’s more yes than no, is what I am Trying to say. I suppose that’s what we mean by faith. Faith’s a big Word, bigger than any religion. It means yes where everything sure Looks like no as far as you can see. Am I making the slightest sense Here, son? I actually call him son. The other kids must have thought I was being avuncular but for a brief moment he was indeed my son, And yours too. We shook hands and he held only my hands just a bit Longer than the usual thing, which I took to be some sort of a prayer.