Up north, my wife, Felice, slipped away with emphysema, and my work cruised on without me—accounts balanced, mortgages afloat. My sleep done down here in Florida, I stand looking out a darkened window no one’s looking in. The morning paper never comes too soon with its rites of scandal and opinion. I finger my few stocks’ shifting fractions, consult the weather map’s puzzle,
while the percolator gurgles and sighs. I wait for the light, wait for that moment when Felice appears, pouring my cream, easing my bitterness by asking, “Where will you go today, and who will you carry?”
I heard the Irishman on the radio say, only it didn’t sound the way we’d say it: commonplace, like dirt under the nails. He held it on his tongue, “Air-th,” as if it were the best place, like heaven: spacious, intricate, infinitely rich, with swells of color and cloud, forest stipple and patches of swale, the “r” rolling along like the hills. As if it were the best word in the language, better even than love.
The scarlet petals were floppy as old hats by March, and falling into piles on the rug, so I cut its plastic pot to free its roots and laid it by the compost in the mud. Busy that spring, I never noticed how it waited out the months, night after night in wind, in grueling rain and a late snow, inclining from the compost into light, its new leaves firming, shining, thick, like a novitiate of a strange order, as days warm, growing fierce and quick, blessing the lost plants I’ve lodged there. It rang like church bells, red, on the hour. Now let me learn to love what cannot flower.
The shavings curled from my plane the afternoon she stood a shadow in the door and spoke the single syllable. I thought, So soon, but deep in me a harmony awoke, a rhythm lost in the hammer song I made furnishing the world chair by chair, bed by bed. Her single word was Go. My debt was paid. Joseph’s memory would be satisfied: My craft would find its end in speech—the Word voiced as once when spoken it divided light from dark and all Creation bloomed. I heard my father in her voice. Both sadness and delight indwelt the shop, as if the two were one as they may be when the work of wood is done.