“The Department of Defense announced Friday that the battery operated ‘digital’ bugle has come of age and is a necessity with only about 500 U.S. military buglers to perform at the 1,800 daily funerals for veterans.” –Washington Times, 10/09/02
And now even this is pantomime— or worse—a kind of full-bodied lip sync at the gravest occasion. Someone in uniform lifts horn to lips to blow (one thinks), simulates the deep draw that hallows breath into note and moves us to that spacious human room where mourning sounds. And now even this is just charade, a button pushed (at least the fingers move), and though the tones are clear as night and sure as sleep, one wonders whether God is really nigh and what besides the soldier-child might die.
The walk back, more loss. When I open the door it’s over, so I set to piddling: tidy end tables, check the mail, draw a bath. The restless energy finally settles as I pass the mirror. I peer into it. My nose touches glass. Not much left, already effaced, not even a cross to speak of. A smudge. A few black soot stains like pinpoints on the forehead. The rest of the blessed ash has vanished to a grey amorphousness, to symbolize . . . not much. Except a wish for those hallowed moments to be followed by sustaining confidence. Except spirit, which means to shun its listless weight for yearning, awkward if not more earnest prayer and fasting in the clear face of dust.
Devotees of children’s literature have received an unexpected lift from the nearly simultaneous release of the new film of Charlotte’s Web, based on the story by E. B. White, and Miss Potter, a biography of Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter. Each in its way is a charmer.
A dead girl lies in a grassy field. Her blood-soaked body has started to decompose. Who is she? How did she get there? Was the killing a crime of passion or opportunity? And who committed the heinous act?
How can children read, with words wobbling any way they feel like? Spelling shows up as speling, and spelin spills to spleen. Stolen bases slide to stollen basis. There’s no Too Far, no leash to keep the feral hound from escape, no property line between ideas, no surveyor to fasten edges.
And if Johnson doesn’t finish soon, words might wander further into wildness, soar like index cards in a hurricane, and scatter like so much litter. Or worse— careen like bullets into meanings, blowing every deal to pieces.
If he finishes, you could be stuck in a poem entirely on spelling, longing for rescue from the strait- jacket they tied us into so we can read and write this. How fragile the guide rope of logic seems between us! How tenuous sweet mutual understanding!
Sam Johnson, in your stained shirt, big as Fleet Street, rehearsing for the thousandth time your smudgy slips of paper, you’ve never finished anything on time, you rarely finish. This is a prayer for you. But shall I bless or curse?
At year’s end, when all is sad and done in, we gasp as clouds of smoke appear. But it’s only the yews spewing pollen, outdoing chimneys as if it were spring. That and speech about Mideast peace as juncos reseed themselves, the Christmas rose flops open to cold, and Barney the cat perfects his new trick—he unbars our door.
He stares. (He prefers indoors.) But right there’s the morning star, just like the chorale’s. And up close, trouble— a pup hunting kibble and warmth. And there’s more. Mt. Rainier shows up in pink and blue bunting. So clear. Such fresh-powder glory. The sleepy volcano seems suddenly haloed, huge, and near. So much for our little stable.
Amazon says that the most highlighted Bible passage on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is Philippians 4:6–7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Atlantic, November 2).