My neighbor scrapes old paint from the fence around his pasture, an annual chore he attends to, for he knows the white he applies revives each slat. I think of his recent essay, peeling back the layers, as he said, of online education, revealing a barren base devoid of the body’s subtle gestures— how a screen cannot replicate confusion written on a brow, engagement flashing in the eyes, or a hand touching a shoulder. How a cursor cannot translate the voice’s inflections, nuanced as the nod of his head, greeting me, while he lays down his tool to rub my dog’s ears, while he motions toward the remaining wood, tells how he’ll finish the job before winter.
The feel of awl and augur in his hardened hands, the rough hull rimed with salt, a whittled plug he made himself, so tight he set his teeth! His handiwork behind him, Norway a miniature carved in the distance, he watched the gray Atlantic like a ravenous whale devour everything between.
The story ends, and yet begins again. Here in a foreign port, his touch begins to read each sign, the curves and swellings, splintered keel and patchwork. How his heart quickens when he finds his father’s fishing boat, familiar as his name, the family build, their house nailed fast above the rocky harbor.
And yet begins again. How the found word both fits and startles, an oracle recovered just in time, just when it’s needed, just before faith slips away like my great-grandfather’s wedding coat, ruined in a flooded basement with old books and portraits, speckled sepia like a gull’s egg, water-marked and too far gone to keep.
I praise the necklace so long it drapes, loops, and circles the neck of a grieving dowager back to her girlhood play.
Yet, I praise the darkening urine of amber beads and the fears engendered by bloodstone;
I praise red coral—millions of gifts piled by sea creatures’ lives. Under the hard western sky, I praise grimy hands, fashioning turquoise squash blossoms for the necks of tourists. I praise the poor woman’s subterfuge, Zircon, and the queen’s throngs of golden chains.
I praise Nancy Pelosi’s pearls,
the sound-taste of chrysoprase, citrine’s juiciness, opal’s sparks, amethyst’s rumored temperance.
I praise the jeweler’s loupe, peeking down from its glass copula into jasper’s chocolate smear purloined from Heaven’s walls.
If God is that small space left at the table, then go ahead and sit there if you like. Even if you weren’t invited, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome. Perhaps you were just overlooked, missed, as in they would have missed you and wished you were here if you hadn’t come . . . not forgotten only misplaced when places were set. Yes, there, wedge into that spot where John leans away to rest his head on Jesus . . . right next to Judas, where perhaps you’ll have time to whisper in his ear, or even chat a moment, just small talk you understand until supper starts.
I must admit at first it threw me, competing with a portent. (What fools would treasure light instead of might?) Such naïveté: Scholars trekking here smitten with a star or some convergence of the cosmos. Yet another fire to put out.
I sent them on their way, their caravan rife with herbs I could have used myself. Camels balking and desert horses restless in the night. Meanwhile that star hummed like a lute, vibrating on a frequency I coveted but couldn’t always hear. I slammed the door, closed the shutters. No way would it make a shadow out of me. My wife said,
“No worries. They’ll be back. Anyway, what child can match your currency, your death squads? The bricks of that new temple? And Rome behind you? Get real.”
I pulled her close, forgetting which wife she was (nine? ten?) and glad to have her. Weeks later, when those wanderers failed to return, I glanced into my looking glass. The eyes staring back at me were nothing but blank gold coins.