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.
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 year: 1944. The place: a makeshift military encampment in the verdant countryside outside of Madrid, where a company of Spanish soldiers is methodically eliminating the few remaining resistance fighters trying to topple the fascist government of General Franco.
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.
Soulful and tough in equal measure, The Pursuit of Happyness is the ideal movie for the Christmas season. It’s a triumph-of-the-spirit film in which the protagonist’s journey from poverty and occasional homelessness to solvency and the promise of a future is so thorny and obstacle-laden that you can’t imagine how he’s going to get there.
There’s not much I don’t know about you— yellow, red, sweet—grubbed up roots and all. Essential for a vigorous cuisine, alerting the sense—the crackle of your paper brown outer skin, your translucent inner sheaths like vegetable undergarments, your pungent heat rising from sharp steel and cutting board to my blurred eyes, your precise circles against the wood, before the sizzle in the buttered pan.
Reluctant to relinquish our intimacy your sharp essence clings to my fingers, like a reputation. Hours later, in the dark, you season the air around my hands, I’ll stud you with stars of cloves to bury in the belly of the bird before roasting. Or nestle your pearls with a stalk of mint among the green peas. If I leave you too long in the pantry, your patience exhausted, attenuated, soft at the center, you send up green spears through the mesh bag that call out chop me, make a salad, I am delicious.
How do I interpret my own layered membranes, like growth rings? I try to peel away the layers of my onion heart, never getting all the way in.
A copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in America, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s and is expected to bring between $15 and $30 million, making it the most expensive book ever sold. One of two copies owned by Old South Church in Boston, it is one of only 11 remaining copies published. The proceeds will be used to help replenish Old South’s endowment once $7 million of it is used for deferred maintenance. The church historian resigned over the congregation’s decision to sell one of its treasures, but the rest of the congregation overwhelmingly supported the decision (New York Times, November 15).