The Valley of Elah is the legendary spot between two mountains where, according to 1 Samuel, young David slew the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath. The site is an appropriate allusion for writer-director Paul Haggis’s movie about the American experience in Iraq. In the Valley of Elah posits that the U.S. may be the military Goliath brought down by hit-and-run insurgents.
Outside my window, the bushes have turned, redder than any fire, and the sky is the same blue Giotto used for Mary’s robes. My mother says, if she still had a house, she’d plant one or two of these bushes, and I love how she’s still thinking about gardening, as if she were in the middle of the story, even though we both know, she’s at the end, the last few pages. Down in the meadow, the goldenrod’s gone from cadmium yellow to a feathery beige, the ghost of itself. Mother, too, fades away, skin thin as the tissue stuffed up her sleeve. The scars on her stomach itch and burn, but inside, she’s still the girl who loved to turn cartwheels, the woman whose best days were on fairways and putting greens. On television, we watch California go up in smoke, flames leapfrogging ridge to ridge. Here, these leaves release a shower of scarlet feathers, as everything starts to let go. Oh, how this world burns and burns us, yet we are not consumed.
I praise the necklace so long it drapes, loops, and circles the neck of a grieving dowager back to her girlhood play.
Yet, I praise the darkening urine of amber beads and the fears engendered by bloodstone;
I praise red coral—millions of gifts piled by sea creatures’ lives. Under the hard western sky, I praise grimy hands, fashioning turquoise squash blossoms for the necks of tourists. I praise the poor woman’s subterfuge, Zircon, and the queen’s throngs of golden chains.
I praise Nancy Pelosi’s pearls,
the sound-taste of chrysoprase, citrine’s juiciness, opal’s sparks, amethyst’s rumored temperance.
I praise the jeweler’s loupe, peeking down from its glass copula into jasper’s chocolate smear purloined from Heaven’s walls.
For 20 years, José Gutierrez, a garbage truck driver in Bogotá, Colombia, has been rescuing books from upper class neighborhoods. He turned his own modest house in a poor neighborhood into a community library, which by now has some 20,000 volumes stacked from floor to ceiling. Known in Colombia as “Lord of the Books,” he attributes his own love of reading to his mother, who read stories to him every night when he was a child. Gutierrez’s favorite books include One Hundred Years of Solitude by his Nobel Prize–winning fellow countryman Gabriel García Márquez (AP).