We stood on a green hill on a brisk day, two small sisters in coats, singing two-part harmony into a tiny grave. Our preacher dad had asked us to sing the one about children and their heavenly father at the burial of a baby, stillborn to a couple named Story.
But this was a story I couldn’t crack. How could a baby be born with no breath or life, how could a baby be dead, but still, born?
I looked at the mother’s eyes as the two of us sparrowed on about how life and death would never sever—I knew it meant separate—children from God’s strong arms.
It was nice to get paid for singing, but I didn’t want to ever be dead and flourishing in some faraway holy courts. Each night I prayed uneasily that If I died before I woke the Lord would take my soul— God suddenly materializing in the dark room, like a frightful thief in the night, to spirit some unseen part of me up and away.
I liked my real home on the prairie. And I wanted my story: all babies born unstill into their fathers’ arms, everyone mounting green hills unwounded by grave dirt, all of us singing an old, old story and breathing, breathing, grace all around us like fresh air.
That’s what it’s called the men tell me after our discussion of Matthew Five and what it means to turn the other cheek, or not, the latter being the path that brought them here. But what, I wonder is a “natural life”? Isn’t it, really, the life led by everyone, those behind walls and those without, each of us living the one life given which is to say there’s no parole for anyone. Yet listening to the men describe how they found Jesus, or rather He found them despite everything, or maybe because, I think of Paul on the road to Damascus, the sudden light, blinding, transforming, reforming, or then again this, a slow inner revealing, the shy gift of sweet snowdrops
Just spent four days with my mom and dad, Who together are hundred and eighty-four Years old, and there are so many wry funny Things to report, and some saddening things Also, like fragility, and the ravines that pain Cuts in faces after years of wincing. But I’ll Tell you just one: my dad at one point tosses A bag of bread from his seat at the oak table Onto the thin counter to his right. Maybe six Feet of air, and he didn’t glance at the target. A little flick of the wrist, and the bread lands Exactly right. This nailed me, but Pop didn’t Look up from the crossword puzzle. It could Easily be explained: former excellent tennis Player, knows the spatial music of the house In his bones, probably made that throw sixty Times, but still . . . the silent casual easy grace, The deft of it! He’s all bones now, he weighs Less than he did when he was a reed of a kid Away to the war they thought would kill him For sure, but when I hug him he’s still all tall Though some of the tall is bent. Look, I get it That someday he won’t be sitting at the table. I get it. Believe me, I have examined the idea. But that his deft won’t be there, his sideways Smile when I gawp at something he says; I’m Not quite getting that. He says he’d like to be Buried in a military cemetery in a deep forest About an hour away. There’s oak and cypress And pine. This will happen, I guess, and then He’ll be a thin kid again somehow or the most Deft of the falcon chicks or the willow branch That finally figures out how to sip from a lake All easy and casual, like it didn’t take practice.
There’s no such thing as heartfelt praise too wild. Yes, wide-eyed, as child but not bashful, mild. The thing at hymn sing to boldly hold in mind, God sings us, His universe, in fervent observant verse. We are His hymns. Amen! But then, conversely, might not we be “Her” shouting forth forte sopranos?