Listen, you cannot hear the small bells rung for mass, or smell the pungent incense. No one is selling tickets at this hour; nothing is open here at the earth’s edge where sheep block the road, and torrents pour from the stony mountain. Above the shrouded dead, tar-soaked timbers with their pitched roofs sky-dive bravely toward the stratosphere. Jet-lagged, we wake to a world spilled open into white and cloudless sky.
Flowers, yellow, purple, white, the one called “stepmother,” crouch like pansies underneath the gallery floor. All day we have been driving near the sound of water, the cry of unfamiliar birds. Now we are tired. Your foot, then mine, tests the sagging steps for rot; your eye, then mine, pries through the worn keyhole. Both of us think we will never be back. Your hand, then mine, refrains from touching the carved lintel with its snakes and dragons out of fear it might dissolve, and like so many things, our faces flushed, our bodies warm from walking, just disappear into thin air.
The title of Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia equalizes its two plots: there is one about how Julia Child came to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking and thereby alter the American palate, and there is one about Julie Powell’s efforts four decades later to cook her way through Child’s cookbook. But in truth these stories aren’t remotely on the same footing.
A morning so still. Rain ended while I slept. Light in the east awakened me. A Carolina wren began his “Teakettle” song. By my study window I drank tea, and read. The first Beatitude spoke to me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” being everything   I need to know. There was nothing on earth I could not let go. Solitude held and sustained me, Emptiness a companion I walk beside. Looking out, I see the clearing sky.
The idea of bartering or battling with the devil for one’s soul is an old one. Cold Souls, a low-budget independent film written and directed by Sophie Barthes, is the first tale I have encountered that deals with soul “storage”—the idea that souls can be removed, stored and transplanted.
In his first feature film, Cary Fukunaga delivers a beautiful and powerful depiction of the lives of Central Americans crossing through Mexico to the United States border. Sin Nombre (Without Name) unfolds mostly on top of trains, and it’s enriched by years of painstaking research, including Fukunaga’s own rides atop Mexican boxcars.
“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
On the day the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal, Iowans Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing had a chance meeting and hugged one another—even though they are culture warriors on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Vander Plaats heads Family Leader, which supports traditional marriage; he believes Red Wing’s lesbian marriage is unnatural. Red Wing, head of One Iowa, an LGBT rights group, has called Vander Plaats “bigoted” and “cruel.” But a few years ago, at Red Wing’s initiative, the two met for coffee and struck up a friendship. Since then they have been trying to soften the rhetoric of their organizations while still sticking to their principles (Washington Post, July 4).