Our high-speed hydrofoil is late. We wait in the island’s worst places, Aeolian churches. Bartholomew, the aging patron saint, drapes his flayed skin over one arm, a sommelier or thespian. Harrowing renders us raw, unclods soil and frees a captive field. The boatman hectors lesbians, insists on learning where they swim. I’m glad you don’t understand the Italian that I barely can. There’s nowhere on this island that doesn’t turn us more against ourselves or one another— too many days in paradise for minds like ours.
Twenty-five years after Praying the Prayer, when my new life was supposed to snap in place like elastic, the smell of crisp, store-rack cotton propelling me to run with endurance toward a finish line I could not see,
I lie on the couch with a sour-smelling terrier curled in the crook of my leg. Today I will bathe him, punch through three Keurig cups, run a trumpet book to the grammar school. No martyrdom here, no preaching in the streets, though tomorrow I might plant another bag of daffodils so in April I can kneel in the gold and thank All Things New once more.
But now I turn my eyes to things above in the window, squirrels gibbering in the canopy of my backyard maple. I doze and wake to their claws skittering down the trunk, mentally etch the face of Christ in the bark.
He doesn’t need me. He wants me. Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, tired nor on fire. I will slip into newness again, fluff the shaking, sodden dog in His name as He drapes me with his soft and silent weaving.
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.