In this painting, on a wagon’s perch, a man, reins invisible on his lap and his face a smudge of umber, further tarnished by the turkey red that day remainders on dusk. And around him, the hauler of fence posts, a dark outline, waxy as the outline of a child’s less practiced hand. Through the body’s black trace glows a little of the background: the going sun, its rusty flare.
Where it all seems to be this way, a little insubstantial around the edges, perhaps either will suffice to weigh us down: a load of fence posts to rut us into the snow and earth on the soft road home or the knowledge that we are not beautiful— at best our clothes hang on us like an angel costume made out of bed sheets hangs on a girl in a pageant, her tinsel halo letting through the dark of the stage curtain drawn behind her as she bows.
A Load of Fence Posts is a painting by Lawren Harris, a member of the Canadian Group of Seven. The painting can be found in the McMichael Gallery, near Toronto.
(translated from the Macedonian by Nola Garrett and Natasha Garrett)
I lift this skull that just hours ago the tempest dug out. How raw is his innocent death, exposed after centuries here in this hill where now I lay him down into a fresh grave, dewy among wild thyme buzzing with bees. This hill now seems greater with a new human stance. I have added to it my heart’s force and love, so I can comprehend where this resurrected one will go and what he might tell me, thought he covers himself with this umbrella, because it is darker out here than the light he blazes underground.
And conjectures, and offers a few ways to take down the body, the God who carries a taste for blood. On the altar, before him, an empty simple cross, and a purple bouquet, one of which, he doesn’t say, was arranged, and one which happened, he knows, against serious, best judgment—
the way you might extend a hand to an enemy, suspecting the risk, knowing better but offering and retracting your bared palm over time like a bud or a bloom opening to a violet spring sky.
In the wake of 9/11, Daniel Pearl, Southeast Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was in Pakistan chasing down leads to a mysterious figure named Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, who he believed had connections to Osama bin Laden and to the recently captured “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).