Where else could she look, but back? Though not in mourning, as some have told it, Counting milestones, naming joys. Or even from a lack Of obedience, as if she had called out, “Hold it. I am Lot’s wife, that must count for something.” Maybe once she would have staked her life on such a claim, But now she’s heard the bargaining And wonders how she missed it all these years. Nameless This grief that overtakes her and slows her swift Legs to a halt. She is Lot’s wife, no more than chattel To do with as the need arises and he sees fit. Humbled, she turns around, away from that.
A pillar of salt! It doesn’t surprise her, This slow dissolving into tears.
The etymology is perilous: pulpit from pulpitum, meaning scaffold, by which we come, at length, to catafalque— those f’s and a’s, like tongue and groove boards, like rope enough to hang, or hoist, or let a corpse down to its permanent repose. One platform’s raised; one frames a coffin’s rest. So, first the elocution, then the wake? Like lamentations or the case of Job— that vexing, god-awful, comfortless book. And yet we rise to the occasion, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. A bit of scripture, a psalm or poem, something that happened in the week just past; we try to weave them all together as if to say a loving God’s in charge. As if we were certain of a loving God. We see by faith. We live in hope. We love. Or play the odds, as Pascal did. We fall. Sometimes it all seems quite impossible. And yet we rise again and walk the plank, and sing into oblivion good news: Unto God the glory, all praise, all thanks! while nodding congregants loll in their pews.
Imagine Tom out on the fire escape, between the world at large and inner life, edging the proscenium, downstage right. whilst curios and characters and shades
unveil themselves as dancing beauties do. I have tricks in my pocket, things up my sleeve! Upstage, sheer curtains rise, transparencies: Truth in the pleasant guise of illusion.
Like John on Patmos, John the Harbinger— voices crying out of the wilderness— Make straight ye the Lord’s way! quoth Isaiah. Eschatology and Apocalypse:
Think Esmeralda in the cathedral, Jim Hawkins in the rigging, chased by Hands or Ishmael, just flotsam at the end, alone, before God and all these people.
Or Montaigne in his tower library: “the whole of Man’s estate in every man.” Or Yeats pacing the boards at Ballylee: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
Thus, exegetes and preachers on their own hold forth, against a never-ceasing din of second-guessing, out there on their limbs: Have faith! Behold, the mystery! Behold!
That fresco of the Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico (dear brother John) shows Jesus semi-circled by his men, gilt-haloed Galileans, but for one, who will betray him later with a kiss. Atop their sandstone tuffets, rapt, engaged, he’s going on about beatitudes, fulfillments of the law, the words to pray. Outside the frame, unseen, a multitude leans in to listen to the hermeneutics, which are not without some challenges, to wit: though we be smitten, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love our enemies; while we’re forgiven only so much as we forgive those who trespass against us. A certain eye-for-eyeness to that scheme, a tooth-for-toothedness. A quid pro quo? As if, to finally get, we must let go? Sometimes it’s so, sometimes it isn’t? So, what shall we say to these things? Who’s to know? Say who abides in love abides in God. Say God is love. Love God. Love one another. Say grace is undeserved and plentiful. Say if we’re saved, it’s mostly from ourselves.
Will You harass a driven leaf, Will You pursue dried-up straw . . . —Job 13:25
when the sun no longer warms nourishes trees dry leaves wither crack fall pummeled under foot ground into earth to begin again i pray you do the same with the sins i leave behind and not with those i keep
Men and women in black, a few at first and then more, move quickly and silently across the parking lot, like a slow rain beginning to fall into the dark mouth of the sanctuary. A blue jay screams curses from the skirts of a pecan tree.
Then comes the small girl the neighbors call “the urchin,” who spends each day alone flitting around the neighborhood like a trapped moth. She is surrounded by three patchy dogs.
She marches barefoot and chants a little song about the summer morning, three stray dogs, and her very own self. She passes between the mourners, a blade of blue sky cutting through storm cloud.
When she gets home, her mother will still sit like a sea wall in front of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with a can of beer. The urchin will go into the kitchen for a glass of warm tap water. The man in the coffin will still be dead. The mourners
will still gather and be sad. Nothing will be any better. The jay will keep screaming its malediction on the deep down meanness of the world. But, look now, for a moment: the song, the girl, and three loping dogs.