It was an overcast late autumn day With a boisterous wind ripping away last leaves From already wintering trees to play A rackety childhood game we called Bank-n-Thieves.
All along our street, the wind was grabbing whole arms-full Of my banked leaves, and sailing away too far to be seen By these old eyes of one who already feels the awful pull Of nature that leaves nothing young and green.
Oh yes, the trees will leaf out again, or keep their odds— Some die—but seasons now revive the ancient myth Of something clearly awry among the gods In Paradise, as we must deal with
Out-of-season subzero ice and snow So that instead of sweaters we wear insulated coats; And if it be my fate that I should go Where they still separate sheep from goats
I’ll hope to be a woolly one who will remain In a gentle zone of temperate cool Regardless of the weather, until we perhaps regain Some hope that seasonal sanity is again the rule.
For now in my own winter, the dark whisper seems Often at my ear, insisting that I should keep Preparing for the journey I mostly sense in dreams, While I remain the weary child fighting sleep.
At the end of time everything trembles and topples— the sun dresses in sackcloth, plagues run amok, vaccines sour; threadbare bones like oakum unravel and children frieze into sandstone; patriots fall like falling stars, and the tower of winds decays in stillness; a flood of faces bloats the river and suicides surface like bubbling sores. Then holy men and women scatter sainted salts to ward off fiends trying to steal family voices pleading for sanctuary; none left but a remnant of martyrs to scribble with blood and sickles in bitter books about the end of time until the kingdom of eternity reigns salving the wounds of memory.
Each man is a half-open door leading to a room for everyone. —Tomas Tranströmer
My friends say Tolstoy really got into the heads of his female characters. They give him credit. They talk dreamily of the books they love, books so long only two will make a whole course. This seems to me like making twelve gallons of chili and eating nothing else till it’s gone, but I smile and listen. My friends are smarter than me and more patient, surely. I’m the only guy in the house tonight so I get my own room with a good foam mattress, a bad desk, windows that open on other rooms. I make up the bed and lie down with Tranströmer’s poems, ten or twenty lines on a page, fewer words in fifty years than Tolstoy or George Eliot put down in a decent work week. Every man is a half-open door.
The door to my room is cracked open, lights blaze outside. My friends are all upstairs. If I don’t shut the light off, no one will. The wind will settle toward morning, the waves begin again to spell their single complicated word. Waiting for the ferry we watched a hawk try to lift a four-foot snake from the shallows, drop it, circle, swoop and grab again and lose its grip and veer away. Oh, how sweet would that meat have been, how grand a feast, how we would have cracked and sucked the bones, how long we could have made that story last.
There must be a sutra that fits this mess: lumps of melting snow —markers of impermanence. Once the unspoiled beauty of fields of cotton, ski slope, starlit sky—now shoveled and ploughed, siphoned inward by sun and gravity. Old snow with all the elegance of gun-metal helicopter blades churning overhead. Soot-smudge tattoos on berms of it, foot-stomped reminders of imperfection, dirty laundry.
Only listen for hymn-licks in the slap of slush from tires, birdsong layered in like a gospel round. Then join in, scanning twigs of gray-barked trees for bud sprits— that first portent of spring.
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).