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.
Fashioned from a book by Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is an elegiac film about Christopher Johnson McCandless, who, upon graduating from Emory University in 1990, set out, without notifying his family, to live as elementally as possible in a manner inspired by Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London.
The feel of awl and augur in his hardened hands, the rough hull rimed with salt, a whittled plug he made himself, so tight he set his teeth! His handiwork behind him, Norway a miniature carved in the distance, he watched the gray Atlantic like a ravenous whale devour everything between.
The story ends, and yet begins again. Here in a foreign port, his touch begins to read each sign, the curves and swellings, splintered keel and patchwork. How his heart quickens when he finds his father’s fishing boat, familiar as his name, the family build, their house nailed fast above the rocky harbor.
And yet begins again. How the found word both fits and startles, an oracle recovered just in time, just when it’s needed, just before faith slips away like my great-grandfather’s wedding coat, ruined in a flooded basement with old books and portraits, speckled sepia like a gull’s egg, water-marked and too far gone to keep.
Nathan Eckstrom teaches English in the Boston Public Schools, one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Its more than 9,000 students come from about 100 countries, and they speak more than 80 languages. Instead of taking a vacation this past summer, Eckstrom went to Haiti to find the places where several of his students live and to visit their extended families. He knows that he will be able to make better connections with his Haitian students after learning about their culture and country. Over the past ten years, Boston teachers have made similar trips to Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and other countries. Fund for Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit, helps fund these trips (Boston Globe, September 12).