here you cannot help remembering King Lear, blind, forsaken on that hostile, wind-lashed heath of Hagar crouched beneath a dry shrub shielding her son’s parched skin against the mid-day sun’s belligerence herself against despair
stones grow in the desert the universe shrinks prize and priority diminish desire ebbs to fit uneasily inside two starkly naked words:
Very many years ago I dated a roaring alcoholic Who taught me many things about many things; Much of what I learned was about me—such as, For example, that I didn’t have the guts to retire From what wasn’t even a love affiar. This is sad To write, even now, but I bet we all learn slowly In this crucial area, yes? But I learned much else That was haunting and poignant. Alcoholics, she Told me, incise a web and welter of scratches on Their car doors, just by the driver’s side keyhole; They are always poking haphazardly in the dark For where the keyhole used to be. You hear lines Like that, your heart breaks a little for the busted Parts of us all, you know? Yes, it’s a disease, yes, It’s a social ill, a terrible one, it’s haunted history, It’s hammered children, shattered families, stolen Unimaginable oceans of creativity and joy, killed Millions of people who might have been stunning Bolts of light in their own amazing ways. But this Evening, opening my car door, I think of the poor Souls thrashing in the dark, desperate for an open Door, scratching their illegible runes, scribbling a Sad new alphabet in the bright glitter of their cars.
My brother makes lists of what he needs to live. He is down to a towel, a small rucksack, good socks, rice and beans and clementines, and flip-flops for strange showers. He wants to be a saint and the holiest travel light. Easier to press close to God wearing only a thin shirt and holding a short list of other loves. He worries, sharp-nosed and sweet, how much to treasure a sturdy hat or a stack of warm tortillas; he digs his fingers into the rocky, well-loved home soil. He’ll have to shake it off, so’s not to be weighed down on his way to heaven. In this late night during a visit home, our parents snore tenderly in a distant room. We do not speak of loving God more than one’s family, though we both know the rules; we do not speak of knees scarred by prayer. Loss and revelation both come in whispers: we do not speak.
It leaps, breaking the skin of the lake of possibility, this thing that flashes steel— this trout of a poem, wild with life, rainbow scales and spiny fins. Now, for patience, the pull of the catch:
I cast, wait for the jerk—the tug of the hook in bony jaw— feel the line go taut. The ballet begins, a wrestle to land this flailing, feral thing—all thrash and edge— and tame it into telling its own muscular story.
I heave it over the edge of its arrival, glorious, fighting the whole way, slippery as language. Its beauty twitches on the floor boards, its glisten spilling over the bottom of my notebook page.
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).