In a huge hotel where the concierge told me there had been count them Three weddings the day before, which is why they erected the epic tent. I got there early and watched people file in. The tall guitar player asked Me if I was the minister. The minister turned out to be a lady who once She got started talking never really stopped except for the music. When The songs started everyone except me stood and held hands and swayed. I am a Catholic man and we only hold hands with children and we don’t Sway. I tried for a while to figure out what species of church service this Was but you just could not tell. There was swaying, which seemed to Be Baptist, and discussion of sacrifice and fasts, which seemed Calvinist, And there were tall people with excellent teeth who seemed Mormonish, And there was talk of the Spirit and the One and suchlike, which seemed Unitarian to me, but then I heard the name Christos . . . Greek Orthodox? For a minute there I wondered if there would be snake-handling or maybe A sudden burst from the Koran, or a pause while we discussed the Torah, But the service stayed determinedly undeterminable. In the opening salvo Of this service I was amused, thinking that it might be something offered By the hotel for its guests, an attractant, some expensive consultant’s idea For adding value to your stay at the hotel, and I marveled at the marketing Brilliance of it—welcoming everyone, offending no one, proffering ritual Without trademark, adding bonus usage to the rent of the tent, as well as Excellent community relations. But soon I stopped being amused and was Moved, despite the endless blather of the minister. People had come to be Moved. They had come to hold hands and sing. There were bright ribbons On the folding chairs by the aisle to signal the bride’s or the groom’s side. There was a man’s green tie knotted to a tent stake. There were tiny babies In their mother’s arms. There was a man hunched in a wheelchair. Why do We ever bother to argue about religion? All religions are the same glorious Wine, susceptible to going bad but capable of quiet joyous gentle elevation. They’re all useful and useless, mesmerized and ruined by power, but always Pregnant with the possibility of humility. They are so easy to ignore. You’d Be wise to sneer, with every reason imaginable for the curl of your knowing Lip. Yet here I am, on Sunday morning, in the wedding reception tent, agog; Not so much at the earnest idiot of a minister, but at everyone, sweetly, else.
Looking at photographs of the kids. One of them is going To college tomorrow. I used to wear that kid like a jacket. He fell asleep instantly given the slightest chance. School, The car, even once during a time-out at a basketball game, Although to be fair he was the point guard and had played The whole first half and been double-teamed. He could be Laughing at something and you’d turn away to see a hawk Or his lissome mom and when you turned back he was out. But tomorrow he’s in the top bunk in a room far away. We Will leave the back porch light on for him out of habit and In the morning we will both notice that it’s still on and one Of us will cry right into the coffee beans and the other will Remember that it felt like all the poems we mean when we Say words like dad and son and love when I slung that boy Over one shoulder or another or carried him amidships like A sack of rice or best of all dangling him by his feet so that All the nickels he put in his pockets for just this eventuality Poured down like something else we do not have words for.
Before Malcolm’s funeral got started, I stood talking with John the blacksmith, who told me He’d been spending some pretty hard hours With a pair of two-year-old Friesian mares Who’d never had their feet trimmed. In a flash, I thought of a feral donkey In Ireland, back thirty years,
Poor animal, lowly mount of the Christ, Hobbling on hooves long as breadloaves. This had nothing whatever to do with Malcolm, But somehow it did, as it happened. Malcolm had once pronounced me as husband. A wonder. I’d gotten the girl, More than the clumsy hero can fathom
When it crops up in sappy movies. So Malcolm is part of a long, joyful marriage, And the family it made, including The children he baptized. One reading Came from a funny note He’d left for the pastor, which said in part: “Non-judgment day is coming,
Beware.” I could virtually feel Malcolm’s voice, Insisting as ever that God Was too big to conform to anyone’s will. There was no one so evil or ill To have strayed beyond the Lord’s grace, he claimed. He was frumpy and funny but mostly Just good. An accomplished athlete as well,
Improbably fierce on the courts, Although he loved his every opponent, He’d wanted his ashes interred In a tennis-ball can. It might seem absurd That I conjured horse or burro, But as we mourners chuckled and wept, I imagined I heard soft words, Malcolm’s, and knew his hand would have stroked
Those neglected, suffering creatures. That funeral day, for all who were there, Was so painful I’d almost swear It hurt them to stand on God’s green earth. For my part at least I wished I could somehow walk for a while on air.
joyous G-d with a diphthong for a heart speaking guttural utterances and finding some soil to dig into calls man up like a whirlwind from the dust to name the animals and watch the rain from within the cleft of a sheltered plane like all reality entering in to a room at once even the windows are unable to stay shut and the grass all around bowing down in the breeze lies plastered to the ground laughing all the while “and what my love do you want to call this cloud of dust” a hippopotamus Adam says jokingly though the name sticks
if suffering doesn’t bring about resurrection the longing inherent to suffering will do it (intuit a spark a fire intuit Christ non- existent for three days not simply somewhere else in heaven or hell but in a cave behind a stone a body without the electricity of a soul the empty zeros of the abyss being filled up by G-d knows what those cold moments utterly void of love in the living room or the kitchen the loneliness inherent to this haplessness of all varieties of war
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).