Back a week from the grave. He pecks at the food his sisters set before him. He is afraid to sleep. He imagines the eyes of everyone upon him but they are careful not to stare, a meaningless courtesy: the midday sun consumes both sight and soul. His funeral shroud is unburnt—he won’t allow it—but his sisters refuse to permit its being brought into the house. Sometimes they catch him holding it to his face and weeping into it. It smells so foully that not even the crows will approach it. He rarely speaks but sometimes talks of going away. It is almost, to their shame, to be wished for.
We take turns monitoring the storm’s approach; I’ve rolled the awnings, taken laundry from the lines. Dull strips of cloud stretch from the west; Wind-prodded, trees wake from an afternoon’s listlessness.
My wife completes one last stitch from her sewing. In the lull, I read from Genesis: Yahweh. Fed and rested in the shade of a terebinth tree, Walks toward Sodom and Gomorrah, cities of the plains.
Their contempt, we can be sure, is unforgiven. We know by instinct not to meddle with such intimacy. The tornado sirens sound; all over town, citizens Descend to their basements. The temperature drops.
Wind and rain begin their agony; divine demonstrations. My wife kisses me, covered with the cinders of Lot’s hope.
Perhaps you are perplexed to determine how two such disparate stories could be told about me. But the truth hides somewhere between and beyond these accounts—I was neither a poor beggar nor a wealthy intimate of God’s Son.
If in these tales I appear as a mere prop—a passive player in parables concerned with actors who wielded some form of genuine power—thus far you may credit each tale: I had no voice. Dumb from birth, the real miracle for me would have been to speak.
And yet this never seemed to me a curse or even a lack— I grew to love my silence, and in my early years I was thought to be simply shy as my maternal sisters supplied my voice in public encounters. Indeed, their ready reading of my intent was all the miracle I craved.
I neither anticipated nor needed any return from the grave—that was about his need, his purpose, not mine. And to be enfolded in the arms of Abraham like some Isaac or Ishmael, my sight simply a torment to some rich fool—what is that to me? To you?
Sitting in a chapel high in the golden sculpted hills of California A few minutes before Mass I reach down to a small wooden box By my chair, where missals and songbooks are stored, and I find A set of ancient eyeglasses folded into an old cloth case, so worn That it feels like a pelt, and I realize that my chair must belong to A certain sister here at the old mission. Maybe she’s here at Mass, Trying not to be peeved that I snagged her seat. After Mass I ask Around and a sweet nun with a cane says oh no, dear, that’s Sister Maureen Mary’s seat. She passed over two years ago. She was tall And hilarious and subject to fits of darkness. She’d been a student Of engineering, a really brilliant girl, when she decided to join our Community. Her parents were appalled, or as Sister Maureen likes To say, aghast. She became a wonderful teacher with us. When she Died we got hundreds of notes from her former students. Teachers Have to cultivate the long view, as Sister said herself. You haven’t Much immediate evidence of your labors. But you get flashes, here And there, and hugs at the end of the year, she would say. She was Still an engineer, she said—still actually working in fluid mechanics. Her mom and dad began to visit once a year and then once a month. Her sister never visited even once although she sent money. Sister’s Parents died and willed us the truck in which they came to visit their Daughter. We use it all over the place. You’ll see it go by today, for Certain. When Sister died we left her glasses there just for moments Like this, when someone discovers her. Often it is us, of course, and We laugh, but then you spend the rest of the day remembering Sister Maureen Mary, who is a most remarkable soul, whom I miss terribly.