I like to compare notes with him, to count the shades of blue on a kingfisher’s back . . . —Robert Cording
“Come see this creature before I cut it loose,” my husband calls to me from the garage, something large and winged thrashing on a spider’s thread dangling down from the opened garage door— no holy ghost but a moth, caught there by a wing until he lifts the silk rigging down with a broom. The flailing insect twirls like an acrobat till he lays it, freed, in the grass. Tired, it doesn’t move. We admire and leave it, go about the business of our days. May it recover . . . may it not become prey for the neighbor’s cat . . . Later, when I remember to look again, it’s flown. (Like your souls, I want to take up the old healing grief metaphor, speaking to my lost father, my mother, my nephew, my grandmother . . . Flown like your souls, to some heaven we can’t— or can—imagine, or map . . .) That night, having lost our chance if not the means to identify it surely, we puzzle over the moth book, pointing: this? Or this? Or this?—(some type of sphinx)—joined in spirit as in body in our human need to capture and release meaning, feel the touch of beloved skin: and keep safe all the facts and fancies of our world, with their attendant terrors and grace, the mystery of the present moment and the escaping future, heart to hand.
The first ever Academy Award for Best Picture was given in 1929 to Wings, a World War I aviation drama full of groundbreaking aerial sequences. People flocked to see the film largely because they longed to feel what it might be like to fly.
Tiny, almost an anti-weight, if it blew off my palm in the wind I might not even notice. Dashing against the back porch glass, the bird fell onto logs I’d stacked there, or rather heaped. I loaded our wood more neatly out in the shed but this jumble of lumber reminded me my life lacked grace.
Wind didn’t kill the bird but misprision. My oldest daughter had just given birth to twins, and I was thinking of them of course when I saw the sparrow. We’re in a hopeful season. I’d like to imagine new beginnings, not ponder for instance the self-styled Christian Warriors I heard about lately, devoted to killing police,
to launching Armageddon. They claim these are days of Antichrist, and I could almost agree—for other reasons. Thou shalt not murder is among the Commandments, I’d remind the warriors, all nine of whom live in Michigan, a place near hell in this near Depression.
Days are bad worldwide, though in gospel God’s eye takes in the smallest sparrow. Vile hooligans among us storm over having a president who’s other than white. We’re all human, and none of us saved, and—as the old Greek said— it might have been best if we’d never been born.
And yet to imagine a world devoid of hope is too easy and lazy, I decide. Outside the odors of spring fly in on the wind: damp mulch, old ice, wet mud and sap. The sugar-makers hope for a few more gallons, hope for a few more years, to be with my children. I open the stove, sweep the bird in.
It’s distracting, everything’s changing wherever I look; an electric blue patch of squill nearly makes me crash, and all the twigs are, suddenly, beaded with leaf buds, while the yellowness of the willows is brightening hourly. I park so I can watch, I jump out of the car and dance along, I’m beaming like a lunatic, and really, you’d think I’d be used to it by now, I’ve seen it happening over fifty times in many different places; I should know that as soon as these words are written, they’ll be old; the leaf buds will be emerald. You’d think I’d give up trying to catch the delicate insinuation of the air, which can’t be caught; the words collapse, they tumble and mesh together breezily interlaced in a tangle of green, the yellow caravel entirely madrigal, and every jonquil ravishment squeezed fresh.
Behind us, the channel half-clogged by bullhead lilies slips back into the smoke of yellow tamaracks clouding the shore and we glide on the silk of a dream so deep, herring break the surface from eighty feet below.
I am this hand skimming the water. I am these eyes dazzled by light.
I am you whom I loved before the seas were parted.
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).