I felt it, riding through the afternoon— the nights are getting shorter and it’s cold and then the baby shifted in my womb and the innkeeper sent us to his sandy field. I did what I was made to do. And now who knows what else is possible? God’s breath moves against the soft nose of the cow. The moon shines on this shed and on the path where you lean, watching us. Who are you? I am the round yon virgin of your song. You are the sky the light is passing through, and you are the iron moonlight. You’re sweet fresh- smelling hay. You’re Bethlehem, the tall kings. Reach out, release us from this wooden crèche.
Each time I visit, my father gives me The things that are sold from weekend driveways— A painting, old golf clubs, assorted books. Before it’s too late, he says, repeating That caution bimonthly for nineteen years Because the Bible says threescore and ten.
But lately, they’ve been practical, these gifts, Things requiring muscle, as if some part Of him might enter me through communion, Transubstantiation happening when I take these things in my hands, receiving His body and blood in the church of work, Believing I will take it through my hands, That forgiveness will follow when I fill His role as oldest, feeling him return In the useful things lifted one morning, The rake and clippers, the shovel and hoe.
Beside the porch, this afternoon, his gifts Are clustered like possibilities raised By numbers—a sickle, a pick, a scythe. “One last thing,” he says, waving me inside Where I imagine vacuum cleaner, broom, A year’s-stiff mop, following his shuffle Until, in his bedroom, he says, “Not these. Just look,” showing me nail file and tweezers, Cuticle scissors, the small implements Of grooming left behind by my mother, What he won’t part with, flexing those scissors With finger and thumb, ready to receive.
Though atmosphere-heavy and plot-light, and obviously pushing Brad Pitt for a “he’s doing serious art here” Academy Award, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford turns out to be a mesmerizing look at the final months of a gun-toting desperado.
He knit him self up, a cable-stitch of skin. Pushed his left eye in its socket, then his right. Cracked the knuckles in his fingers (now so thin!). Raised him self from the dirt and stood up right.
Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t get dizzy. Lazarus, Lazarus, now get busy. Mary’s weeping, Martha’s made a cake, Jesus is calling at the graveyard gate. Your closest cousin, happy you are dead, Eyes Martha’s sheep and Mary’s empty bed.
He licks his lips and wags his muscled tongue. Flexes each foot till the warm blood comes. Turns from the darkness and moves toward the sun. A step. A shamble. A dead-out run.
Gun metal gray the sky this morning and along the shore at dead low tide an on-shore wind blows spume across the wave tops. Rain before dark, they say, and even some late snow to dash our dawning dreams of green and blossoming. Undaunted, a new pair of mallards— splendid headed male and female—inaugurate the new-thawed pool beside the dog run of our ocean-front retirement home. Silent, they move across, now venturing among the reeds to break their long migrating fast, and seek a secure nesting place to lay the future. Blessing their ancient quest, I call to mind one week ago, on this same daybreak dog walk, I was surprised, almost alarmed, by one great, stately snow white egret, with his mate, also foraging among the weeds, as the larger of them rose, spread his quite angelic wings, and wafted a bright unexpected blessing to my aging head, as he moved on in search of richer waters.
When Toni Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton University, all her students had been told in previous classes to write about what they knew. She said to forget that advice because first, they didn’t know anything yet, and two, she didn’t want to read about their experiences. She told them to imagine people outside their own experience, such as a Mexican waitress in Rio Grande who could barely speak English. It was amazing what these students came up with, Morrison said, when they were given license to imagine something outside their realm of experience (American Theatre, March 10).