Hubble pockets light years, eons, sees eye to eye with dust, a small drop of water. NASA’s robot stalks tiptoe, a cat’s paw on the prowl to report if there is life, beeps back a monument of stone and ice, an unresponsive mountain in orbit. Delicate antennae translate the laws of physics into a mourner’s sigh.
But the frozen droplet, like the sea to a drowning man, whirls its rueful hoard of thanks deferred, of love unvoiced, the pleas of miracles before the eyes, the mystery of the heart, the mind’s Post-it notes: Praise the Lord, Carpe Diem and Memento Mori.
It’s the coat I notice first, several sizes too big, and blue as the sea, an ocean to drown in, and clearly not hers. It was, I guessed, his, just two months dead, and she, his wife for scarcely a year, stays afloat, barely, marooned in his clothes, in anything that keeps him close, the scent and touch of cloth to skin. But it’s the shoes that pierce my heart—gunboats, we called them when I was a child—and they do look like boats, his New Balance sneakers that carry her, heeling, over sharp breaking waves.
—All Saints Episcopal Church, Virginia Beach, April 1996
Having accepted from one palsied priest the cool, the lucent wafer, having dipped it duly in the cup, I pressed that sweet enormity fast against my tongue, where on its sudden dissolution, I received a taste of whose I was. I rose again and found my place.
As I knelt and tried to pray, I heard a little differently the words the priest intoned as he continued offering what passed for bread among high Protestants. His words: the body of Christ, repeated as he set that emblem into each pair of outstretched hands. My eyes were shut,
so each communicant returning down the aisle became something of a shadow illustration of the words. In that fraught moment, they became as well absorbed into the vast array of witnesses, whose cloud invisibly attended our sacramental blurring of the edge that keeps us separate.
Jane Hirshfield has made her home in northern California for almost 30 years--plenty of time for a redwood tree to reach for her open window. I like this short poem for the very calmness attributed to the tree itself--and for the wisdom within that calm. The poem has the quality of parable, yet it oddly inverts and recombines familiar parables that we know.