Cold morning, November, taking a walk, when suddenly, up ahead, the trees unleave, and thousands of starlings lift off, an immense river of noise; they braid and unbraid themselves over my head, the gray silk sky embroidered with black kisses, the whoosh of their wings, their chattering clatter, patterns broken/formed/ reformed, a scarf of ragged ribbons. Dumb- struck, mouth open, I say holy and I say moly. And then, they’re gone.
I was pawing through a shelf of books the other day When out fell a note from my late brother in his tiny Adamant wry inarguable crisp half-cursive-half-not Handwriting, and just for an instant I saw and heard Him at his desk, in his study, his mustache bristling, Black coffee half-cold, the burl of his body wrapped In the arms of the chair that held him for thirty years, A chair as big as a horse and twice as heavy. I heard Him, I tell you, I did, and I saw him, half-shadowed, Scribbling notes: his philatelic pursuits, notes for his Class next week, notes on a book he was going to do About Benedictine spirituality . . . then I was only me By the bookshelf again. But for a second I was in my Brother’s study, watching him. It was late, everybody Was in bed, but not him, as usual he was up late with Coffee. He was wearing a sweater. The scritch of his Pen. His shoulders like boulders. The dim procession Of his books, organized by genre and author. He died Three years ago. But I saw him, absorbed, thoroughly Attentive, scrawling notes. There’s way more possible Than we think possible; possible turns out to be a verb. I don’t know how else to explain things like this. They Happen all the time to all of us and we hesitate to gape About them publicly because the words sound like pap, Miracle and epiphany and vision, you come off as nuts, A religious goober who talks to owls and addled saints. But you know and I know that this happens. I guess we Will always understandably be hesitant to chat about it, Which is fine, as no one enjoys being labeled a goober; But once in a while, like here, we should admit that it’s Real, and it happens all the time, and it’s scary and cool. That’s all. Once in a while we should gently say what is.
“This illusion trips him. . . . He runs. Ah: runs. Runs.” John Updike, Rabbit, Run
This step-after-step chase-to-the-afterlife invites detours—dust: the afterthought kicked up by heels leaving the scene: I run, you run, he runs, she runs, they run away, beyond, the body dragging the last of its soul by a shoelace.
Over deserts, over cliffs, over lakes—frozen and un— over hotel Gideons and attic King James, over Good News for Modern Man and Book of Common Prayer, the feet punctuate their ellipses, pivot to prodigal or penitent; you can’t tell by the flesh blistered with persistence. It’s the finish line that knows, the aching tendons that remember.
Oh, that’s a Pignut Hickory, she says, showing off, and pointing to a great splash of yellow and green. One lonely cedar stands tall in its own climate of ripe fall fragrance you want to keep on your fingers as you break its seed with your nail. An oak still green with one small spray of tan, as though to say impatiently, I know, I know. Just wait.
November 1st, the veil thinner, and we remember those who’ve gone to the other side. Don’t worry, I say, I’ll be there soon. But for now, I mark the presence of their absence, an ache in the throat, a finger on memory’s pulse. Light candles to keep out the dark, to mark a path, should they wish to return. The floating world shimmers and ebbs. I’d like to cross over, just for one hour, see my mother, hold my baby, talk to Clare. Perched on our shoulders, the dead ride with us, teetering like pyramids of water skiers, forming enormous wings. Their words, though, remain inaudible. Cold syllables. They scratch maps in frost on dark windows, but no one can read them.
Cross the threshold. This night is ancient and long. Whisper in my ear, tell me what the new year will bring. Look at how the candle uses up its wax. See how the smoke rises in the hearth.