Like the invisible coyotes that streak through the woods to the fringes of our town, a bawling wind of voices. They’ve come too close, the village complains. Perhaps. I’ve heard the squeals of chipmunks caught in the fur-fire. People plug their ears, follow their dogs out at night. But still, I open my window to their shrill, persistent haunting, fall asleep to the blessed assurance of a pulsing, moon-ticked pack loping over the fallen leaves in the darkness, working together for some kind of good.
Our high-speed hydrofoil is late. We wait in the island’s worst places, Aeolian churches. Bartholomew, the aging patron saint, drapes his flayed skin over one arm, a sommelier or thespian. Harrowing renders us raw, unclods soil and frees a captive field. The boatman hectors lesbians, insists on learning where they swim. I’m glad you don’t understand the Italian that I barely can. There’s nowhere on this island that doesn’t turn us more against ourselves or one another— too many days in paradise for minds like ours.
The congregation of pilled sweaters gathers. The least of them my brethren, their terrible feet unpeel from comfortable shoes. They come to be healed by my father through my father who kneels before them with a bowl a monk threw on a potter’s wheel near the rocks of the Dry Salvages. Among the fusty velvet pews, timelessness collides with time incarnate in human weakness, raw skin, yellow corns. Here, among us, there are so few strong among us, so many reeking needs, such fervent despair, I long to bare my baby teeth, to lunge at the wretched. God save us from those who wish to be saved in this suburban church, its reenactment intended to puncture time while the hollow chime of tennis balls from the next door courts rings with the sacrilege of a Sunday plough.
Twenty-five years after Praying the Prayer, when my new life was supposed to snap in place like elastic, the smell of crisp, store-rack cotton propelling me to run with endurance toward a finish line I could not see,
I lie on the couch with a sour-smelling terrier curled in the crook of my leg. Today I will bathe him, punch through three Keurig cups, run a trumpet book to the grammar school. No martyrdom here, no preaching in the streets, though tomorrow I might plant another bag of daffodils so in April I can kneel in the gold and thank All Things New once more.
But now I turn my eyes to things above in the window, squirrels gibbering in the canopy of my backyard maple. I doze and wake to their claws skittering down the trunk, mentally etch the face of Christ in the bark.
He doesn’t need me. He wants me. Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, tired nor on fire. I will slip into newness again, fluff the shaking, sodden dog in His name as He drapes me with his soft and silent weaving.
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).