Coming down out of the freezing sky with its depths of light, like an angel, or a buddha with wings, it was beautiful and accurate, striking the snow and whatever was there with a force that left the imprint of the tips of its wings— five feet apart—and the grabbing thrust of its feet, and the indentation of what had been running through the white valleys of the snow—
and then it rose, gracefully, and flew back to the frozen marshes, to lurk there, like a little lighthouse, in the blue shadows— so I thought: maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers— that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes, not without amazement, and let ourselves be carried, as through the translucence of mica, to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow— that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light— in which we are washed and washed out of our bones.
Fig tree dominates the garden, gray and knobby against gray fog, its bare branches grotesque. Like the old, bent parishioners my father would visit, taking me along, a child. They stroked my hands, my woolen dress, reached out with cloudy eyes.
This tree reaches everywhere, as though light can be caught. Slow sun drains through, stirs a wing. Then one morning I see them, green tips of figs hard as emeralds escaping from every knuckled grasp.
The boy was thrown against the ground, his arms flung wide so I could see under the bent grille of the farmer’s truck his narrow chest rise and fall—so I could hear between the swish of passing cars that click of breath and bone.
Even now I watch the rain—but there was no rain— spark against the road. I see his hair— but from where I stood his face was turned— soaked against the ripe fruit of his cheek. Listen,
the bus had stopped for gas. I left my seat and walked across the empty lot hoping for a sink to rinse my mouth. I remember the black field beyond the road, the moonless sky and how I strained to tell heaven from earth.
Truth is, that morning no one was saved. No one lit a cigarette and proclaimed Never again to anything. Strange. How I can see each orange fall from the bed of the truck, thump onto the pavement and roll gently to a stop.
He didn’t see me which is why I was able To sit beneath him in bare woods, close enough To almost touch his six-inch prehistoric beak, Curved scimitar that searched and tapped As he hopped, bobbing, up the oak. His broad black back, shy sweep of wing, Ungainly, yes, but such a sight, and Better yet his outsized head topped By a tuft of flaming red that stuck up straight, And made me smile. A cartoon’s joke, Yet he was real. So were my thoughts That bitter day, mind and memory Bleak as steel until I looked and saw and felt The sudden wild gift of life.
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).