What if that brave Emmett had somehow managed to escape, my boy who had done all that talking, a word or maybe two before those thirsty fists demanding to be quenched in his blood slammed my door down looking for him.
Say he heard their pickup truck. Say he jumped out the window of my clapboard house and ran through row after row of burly-cheeked cotton until even the lily-white moon could not follow him.
Say he made it to that line of loblolly pines and hid in the colored cemetery; no whites allowed their children or their womenfolk to go there where the haints of lynched men lurk, hate messages singed into their chests.
Say he made for the river seeking safety in the bulrushes, the final resting place of so many slaves who ran for freedom, hoping his battered breath might last long enough under the cesspooling water, stringy-fingered weeds and copperheads grabbing for his ankles.
Say the Tallahatchie had not turned vengeful, angry that some black boy would pollute the waters where white men feed their families and their lusts.
Say, too, from the river he searched for a ditch to lie in, coffining him from the burlap-hooded vigilantes swooping over the countryside.
Say a thunderstorm struck that night, as they screamed to God to let them catch the boy before the lightning or the buzzards did. Say, too, they scattered black and white posters all over Mississippi vowing to bury him.
Then say, just say, how he almost found the train tracks which might have led him out of the Delta, out of Egypt, I called my son.
in the brambles and in the brush, in the long shadows on the long street, in the creases of the faces that I greet. Dryad of my back yard, Apollo of my morning, bell tones hefted heavenward, musk of hardwood burning, my wild hand that guides the pen, my tame heart that wilds when all cries Christ! and Christ! again. O beauty, O fast friend, your touch upon my parchment skin, youngs it new. The year begins.
The organ swings into the invitation hymn, slinging us around the known world toward the apogee of surrender, Oh Muse of Scripture, Muse of Choice, Muse of the Sawdust Trail. I look at my hand resting on this oak pew, shaped like Asia, a million cells teeming, blood pumping, going on with its normal irreligious, hungry life. Things are being decided. We are singing Just As I Am, the fourth verse, over. My right hand listens to the soprano next to me, balancing on her catwalk of steep chords. It longs to fly up to that soaring obbligato. Just raise your hand, the Evangelist calls, if you want God to use you on the mission field. What he means: when God wants to find you, He will know where to look. My right hand twitches, tugging skyward on its kite string. What I have been taught: marks on paper, numbers, letters, postulates, break down. The whole repertoire of my life has been practice for this moment. I try to make myself restful and empty, nothing but an interval before the generous right hand, and the sinister left, decide.
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).