Close to an hour more of light since December’s solstice stood the calendar on edge, balancing my dwindling days between the here and the hereafter. This late January thaw has turned thoughts to spring again, those Holland-ordered bulbs I bedded late into November already showing green above the gray and crusted soil. You’d think, with seventy winters now beneath my crust, that I’d know better, learn to stay hunkered warm against those drifts that still must slump against the garage door. Yet an old, insistent summoning, wiser than winter’s experts, sends me back to the seed catalogs, makes me check trowel, fork and leaf mold, bends my head to bloom and blossoms yet unseen but lending never-ending fragrance to every lifeless, frigid scene.
The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one, prying it open with a blade under cover of night to determine its component parts: seeking with his fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log. The same goes for wings. Without evidence from his cadavers, he dispenses with them, painting angels as fit as young quarrymen and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic principles will never apply. Even God looks as if he climbs into bed each night stiff from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep, his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.
These midwinter days that bridge Epiphany to Lent can seem anything but ordinary as the steady waxing light reflects across old December’s glaze of ice, a biting wind hisses across the stark bones of the bracken, and treetops signal sparse against a sky expecting still more snow before nightfall. Scarlet and speckled birds announce themselves about the brightness of the holly, spray from the creek creates bright frosted chandeliers among the tangled overhanging branches, and dusk draws down its spangling of stars so crystalline they lift the eye— heart too—toward a principality that banishes any vestige of routine predictability. Ordinariness exists—if at all— within the desiccated soul, too distracted by its fearful self to notice.
There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. –Mark Strand
What shall I do with this book I love so much I’d like to eat it? Meeting the poet at a reading, I would cast my eyes down. I’d walk behind him, not stepping on his shadow. If he told me I was half blind, I might lose sight in both my eyes. At home, everything I write becomes infected with his wildness: for instance, this, which I never planned, which has no ending.
Where shall I put the book, so full of life my car could barely stick to the Expressway? When my cold encyclopedias sense its goofy brilliance, they climb and hang on one another like Chinese gymnasts. I must subtract to make a place for the book to live. I lift out histories, then other listless volumes. I toss my boring files, erase the answering machine, renounce the desk, computer, pens.
Only the illumination of St. John stays. In my study’s scooped-out heart I wait beside the book, which glows with light borrowed from some distant star. I look at St. John’s face. He gazes from his throne, his eyes blazing with love and understanding. Tongues of flame play over him, sent from the Source who is both arsonist and fireman, and in his right hand, he holds a book.