“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.
By purest chance I was out in our street when the kindergarten Bus mumbled past going slow and I looked up just as all seven Kids on my side of the bus looked at me and I grinned and they Lit up and all this crap about God being dead and where is God And who owns God and who hears God better than whom is the Most egregiously stupid crap imaginable because if you want to See God and have God see you and have this mutual perception Be completely untrammeled by blather and greed and comment, Go stand in the street as the kindergarten bus murmurs past. I’m Not kidding and this is not a metaphor. I am completely serious. Everyone babbles about God but I saw God this morning just as The bus slowed down for the stop on Maple Street. God was six Girls and one boy with a bright green and purple stegosaurus hat. Of course God would wear a brilliantly colored tall dinosaur hat! If you were the Imagination that dreamed up everything that ever Was in this blistering perfect terrible world, wouldn’t you wear a Hat celebrating some of the wildest most amazing developments?
I ran away from home once to the nearby Bell Theatre, where I often viewed musicals and comedies with my family. I wanted to escape from quarrels, to find in the dark a life as shimmering as the stars.
The Sound and the Fury with Yul Brynner and Joanne Woodward was playing that night. Before long, my father came to take me home. I was eleven, too young to flee my family. He rescued me, as he would later, while away in school, sending me cash folded into his letters.
My father resisted my mother as well: Thanksgiving he refused to eat her green peas and mushrooms, dubbed them buckshot and devil umbrellas— word play an antidote to bickering.
Years on, I taught Faulkner’s novel, remembered the night my father took me home, his small notes on the underside of silver paper lining his cigarette packs.